The stakes were high, but the rewards were higher. On Sunday, Dec. 4, the second-ranked Hopkins Blue Jays faced off against the fourth-ranked Case Western Reserve Spartans in the 2022 Division III Women's Soccer National Championships. Both teams were vying for a chance to win their first-ever national title.
Judging by the title, it was the Blue Jays who ended up taking the crown as they beat the Spartans 2–1, solidifying the fact that the Jays scored at least two goals in each game out of their last 21 games. The grueling 90 minutes featured 33 combined shots, 12 combined saves and a few near-misses on both sides. The Blue Jays ended their season unbeaten with a record of 23-0-2 and winning 21 straight games, tying the school record.
The Jays struck first as graduate forward Rachel Jackson and graduate middle Breukelen Woodard tag-teamed to bring Hopkins to that early lead. More than 30 yards away from the goal, Jackson made her way toward midfield with two defenders hot on her tail. She quickly made a pass to her right, and Woodard quickly fired a low pass that went straight through the hands of the Spartan goalie.
In a little over 20 minutes, the Spartans broke even, working their way through the middle of the field to the top of the box and fired a low shot that graduate goalie Emma Huntzinger attempted to save but couldn’t control. The loose ball slipped into the open net.
There were many attempts to break the tie on both sides. Case Western sent a 17-yard offering that was saved by Huntzinger. Blue Jay graduate midfielder/forward Rebecca Rosen got her foot on a cross minutes later that went wide. Huntzinger then saved a shot attempt by a Spartan in the final 10 seconds of the half, preserving the tie.
The score tied at the half, but the Jays only needed four minutes in the second half to grab a 2–1 lead. Woodard and freshman forward Maria Romo-Nichols worked the ball down the field before she passed the ball to sophomore forward Katie Sullivan who scored the score-changing goal at just 10 yards out.
There were many close calls and opportunities for the Jays to increase their lead, but it didn’t happen. Woodard made a header off a corner kick by Sullivan that went just wide of the post. Minutes later graduate midfielder and defender Kacie Filian made a header that was redirected by Sullivan and barely made it to the goal line before bouncing away.
Huntzinger stopped four of the eight shots attempted in the first half and made it very difficult for the Spartans to make any sort of headway after halftime. Still, they came dangerously close. A corner didn’t make the qualifications for a shot but was risky as the ball was headed twice before being knocked away. From then on, the Blue Jays kept possession of the ball to seal the deal on their first national title.
Onto some superlatives. The Most Outstanding Offensive Player went to Jackson and the Most Outstanding Defensive Player went to graduate defender Kendall Dandridge. Additionally, Sullivan and Woodard landed a spot on the all-tournament team. Woodard made seven goals in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament — one shy of the Division III record for the most goals made in a singular tournament.
In an email to The News-Letter, Romo-Nichols reflected on her thoughts about the game.
“Although I was definitely nervous going into the national championship game, in hindsight, I don't think I fully understood the weight it held,” she wrote. “Since this is my first year on the team, I have never known anything other than how this season went, and it was quite a successful season. However, after winning the game, I think I began to realize how huge of an achievement this was for the program and for the school.”
Now that the season has come to an end, Sullivan, in an email to The News-Letter, reflected on their journey and pointed out a specific moment that was truly memorable for her.
“I think one big highlight of the season was our comeback win in the NCAA sweet sixteen round against Williams. We dominated the entire regulation but were not able to score. The game went into overtime and they scored on us in the first 5 minutes of OT on a free kick. We knew that we were not going to lose that game so we came back 40 seconds later and scored so that it was 1-1. Probably about 3 minutes later, we scored to go up 2-1,” she explained. “That comeback win just showed how strong we were as a team, and how badly we knew we wanted it. It also proved our training was really strong. Whether someone was a starter or sub, everyone trained extremely hard and made each other better, which is a major contributor to why we won the national championship.”
Sullivan discussed how the comeback illustrated the team’s motivation.
“That comeback win just showed how strong we were as a team, and how bad we knew we wanted it. It also proved our training was really strong,“ she wrote. “Whether someone was a starter, or sub, everyone trained extremely hard and made each other better, which is a major contributor in why we won the national championship.”