Chris Kendrick (@CKendrick86)
CHICOPEE, Mass. – The second-seeded Elms College women's soccer team overcame a first half deficit to capture a 2-1 victory over three-seed Southern Vermont College in the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Women's Soccer Championship semifinal at Leary Field Wednesday night.
The Mountaineers set the tempo early as sophomore Juliena D'Alessio (Berlin, N.Y.) took the opening kickoff to goal as fired a shot on net, which Elms sophomore keeper Rebecca Molin (West Hartford, Conn.) turned away. In the 24th minute, Southern Vermont capitalized on their first corner kick of the game as sophomore Ashley Blom (Manorville, N.Y.) lofted a ball to the front of the net, where classmate Taylor Jarosz (Troy, N.Y.) found space and knocked a header past Molin to hand the Mountaineers a 1-0 lead.
The Mountaineers looked to add to their advantage early in the second half as freshman Jayne Wierzbicki (Wilmington, Mass.) knifed through the Blazers defense but her shot rang off the left goal post and away from goal to keep the score at 1-0.
With 24:24 on the clock, Elms junior defender Christina Leonardo (Enfield, Conn.) dribbled the ball into the attacking zone and tucked a past between a pair of SVC defenders, finding senior Brie Voight (Springfield, Mass.) on a charge to the net, and Voight delivered a finish past Moutaineer senior keeper Melissa Mascari (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) to even the score at 1-1.
The difference-maker for Elms came in the 86th minute as senior Mackenzie LaRochelle (Chicopee, Mass.) grabbed a loose ball at the top of the box and fired a shot on goal, which knuckled through the air, caught Mascari off-guard and found the back of the net to lift the Blazers to the 2-1 win and their fifth straight trip to the NECC Championship match.
"It feels great to be heading back to the Championship," said Elms Head Coach Sean Milbier. "Our ultimate goal is to win a championship, and we've put ourselves in a position to do that. You never want to go down [1-0], especially in a playoff game, but I talk to the team after and said to them 'not for one second did I see anybody look like we weren't going to get this done.' From the bench, the coaching staff, the fans to the players on the field, everyone could feel the sense that we were going to get this done. I was great to see that resiliency and I love our fight. Early, we were working too much individually outside and up top, so we needed to move closer together to combine and create that second pass, and I think we did that in the second half and scored two nice goals. [Mackenzie LaRochelle] was fantastic today, this may have been the best game Kenz has ever played here. The goal was obviously class, and Southern Vermont has a great keeper, so to see her get beat like that, that ball must've moved two or three times. [Mackenzie] worked so hard tonight, did a lot of the things we asked her to do, and I'm super proud of her."
The Blazers controlled the shot column, 21-7, during the contest. Molin posted a pair of saves for Elms, while Mascari stopped a game-high six shots for Southern Vermont.
The Blazers (13-5-2) will face the winner of the semifinal tilt between top-seed Lesley University and fourth-seeded Becker College in the title game Saturday afternoon. The Mountaineers (12-5-1) wrapped up competition for the 2017 season.