EWING, N.J. – 110 scoreless minutes. A bevy of cards. Seven rounds of penalty kicks.
It took a little bit of everything for the No. 1 TCNJ women’s soccer team to emerge from an epic showdown with Rowan on a frigid Friday night at Lions Stadium.
When the dust settled, and the ball from the Profs’ final shootout attempt had fallen harmlessly to the turf after a brilliant save by Alexandra Panasuk, the Lions reigned supreme once more as champions of the NJAC. TCNJ has won four consecutive conference titles, not including the one contested this spring.
Panasuk made three clutch stops, the last on a dive to her left, to lift TCNJ to an unforgettable crown, the program’s 20th under head coach Joe Russo. Ivonne Vazquez converted the Lions’ seventh try to precede Panasuk’s walk-off stop and clinch a 5-4 triumph after the sides went to battle for 110 exhausting minutes of physical, tense football.
TCNJ (16-0-2) earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will find out its matchup during the NCAA selection show on Monday. The bracket reveal is set for 1:30 p.m. on ncaa.com.
The Lions dominated proceedings but were unable to put anything past Bristol Pizzutto and a staunch back line for the third-seeded Profs (15-4-1).
After a relatively quiet first half, the intensity expanded in spades. Sophie Vieira was denied by the crossbar early in the second half, and Ava Curtis rang the left post on a penalty kick with 25 minutes remaining in regulation. The referee reached into his pocket for a whopping nine yellow cards, including one for the entire Rowan sideline, and the chippiness only grew as the clock wound down.
Despite other chances, TCNJ never found a breakthrough. Rowan had a golden chance to win it in the first overtime session, but misfired high on a sitter right in front of Panasuk and the teams headed into penalty kicks to decide the crown.
The shootout started inauspiciously for the Lions, who had their first two attempts saved while the Profs cashed in on theirs. That left the smallest of windows for a comeback. Somehow, TCNJ managed to climb out.
Amelia Curtis got the Lions on the board with a shot to the upper right netting, and Panasuk came up with a save on a ball right back to her.
Victoria D’Imperio converted her try with a shot to the lower left side of the goal, but Rowan answered to take a 3-2 lead into the fifth round.
Ava Curtis redeemed herself with a confident stroke to the left side of the net, and Panasuk followed with a diving save to keep the Lions alive.
Gianna Minerva came through in the clutch with with a cool-as-you-like effort to the lower right side, only for the Profs to equalize.
That sent the shootout into a seventh round. Vazquez buried a terrific shot to the left side, setting the stage for Panasuk to play the hero.
TCNJ enjoyed a 25-5 advantage in shots, including 12-0 in the second half, and registered 10 corners to Rowan’s three. Pizzutto finished with seven saves, while Panasuk made the two she had to in regulation and overtime.
The Lions now await their NCAA Tournament opponent and a likely regional hosting assignment.