With their hearts set on a Championship, after defeating the University of North Florida, the Mercer women’s soccer team came up just short against a talented team from Florida Gulf Coast University in the championship match for the second year in a row.
In the first match for the Bears of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship Tournament, the Bears defeated the Ospreys of North Florida 3-0, placing themselves in the Championship match for the fifth time in six years.
Mercer got off to a quick start by scoring a goal in the first 10 minutes. For the seventh time this season, the Bears recorded a goal in the first 10 minutes of play. Junior defender Kristen Hagaman launched a through ball in the third minute of the game that was misread by several Osprey defenders and ended up finding the back of the net. It was Hagaman’s first goal in her three-year career.
The Bears used this goal to help their momentum and outshot their opponent 7-3 before entering into halftime.
Mercer came out of halftime ablaze. Again, the team captured the early momentum in the second half as senior midfielder Danielle Hesse tallied her sixth goal of the season in the 48th minute of play. Hesse settled a feed pass from sophomore Lauren Gassie and beat UNF’s goalkeeper with a rocket of a shot from the 18 yard line. Junior Nadja Kolliesuah started the play in the box and picked up an assist as well.
Junior forward, Casey Barrett put the game out of reach for the Ospreys in the 72nd minute off a nice individual effort. Barrett finished off a long run through a couple of UNF defenders and slid a soft shot to the near post to give the Bears the decisive 3-0 lead.
With this win, the Bears earned a spot in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship match against a formidable opponent in the tournament host’s and regular season conference champions, FGCU. The Bear’s faced FGCU just two weeks prior in a match that was won by FGCU and earned the Eagles hosting rights of the conference tournament.
This would be the second year in a row that FGCU would be the Mercer Bears’ kryptonite. Once again, the Bears lost to FGCU in overtime in a match that was extremely competitive. FGCU got a goal in the 93rd minute to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears came out hesitant in the opening half which allowed FGCU to take the upper hand early in the first half. After an offensive onslaught from the FGCU Eagles, the nation’s leader in goals against average, freshman goalkeeper Maggie Cropp was forced to make four difficult saves in the first half as the Bears midfield and defense settled into the match.
After fending off the early FGCU threat, the Bears defense tightened up, but couldn’t find the open feet to counter offensively and the teams headed into the break tied at 0-0.
A controversial decision from the referee at the end of the first half resulted in the sending off of both head coach Tony Economopoulos and assistant coach Brenton Saylor, which left the team without a coach for the entire second half of play and into the first overtime period. Former player and current student assistant, Sara Elliot had to assume coaching responsibilities going into the second half.
During the second half, Mercer found a little of its offensive rhythm and was able to get FGCU on its heels as the game went on. Perhaps the Bears best chance came in the 82nd minute when sophomore Tess Patton guided an open shot just high from eight yards out.
Mercer had three players named to the A-Sun All Tournament team at the conclusion of Sunday’s match. Defender Rachel Buffalo, midfielder P.A. Upson and goalkeeper Maggie Cropp were all recognized for their play.
The loss ends a historic season for the Bears and first-year head coach Tony Economopoulos. Mercer set the program record for wins with 13 and reached the double-digit win plateau for the fifth time in the last six seasons, finishing 13-5-3.