From the corner of Olson field nearest to Gough Hall, senior Kara Neef swung her foot at the ball, sending it sailing in a perfect arch towards a swarm of players in front of the net. Rising up from the crowd of players, senior Ashley Hackman connected with the ball and headed it inside the back post. Hackman’s goal was the only of the game in Eastern’s 1-0 MAC Freedom Conference Championship win over Delaware Valley. Though the win was a terrific ending to a great season, it was just one memory in the perfect story that Eastern’s women’s soccer program has become.
For the second year in a row, the women’s soccer team achieved champion status within their conference. Last year, the team went undefeated in their final season of play in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference. This season, the team went a perfect 10-0 in their new conference, the MAC. But the team’s story is not all about winning streaks and championships. This is arguably one of the closest groups of players Eastern’s athletic program has ever had.
“I don’t want it to end,” said Neef, one of eight seniors who have been on the team since 2005. “This has been my favorite part of college, coming out here after class each afternoon. I love the girls, the team and everything else.”
Both Hackman and Neef came to Eastern as part of a first-year class of 13 players on the 2005 team. At the time, the women’s program was in the midst of rebuilding, with only six returning players on roster, no home field to play on and a measly dirt field for practicing. The Olson turf field was not yet completed and the team posed for its picture in the Waltonian on a bulldozer. Dan Mouw, the current head coach, was also only a part-time coach.
“A lot has changed,” Mouw said. “It’s been a special group [the senior class]. I can’t believe its been four years.”
Other seniors from the original 2005 first-year class include Kristin Watson, Corie Brant, Steffie Sauder, Heidi Peachey, Amanda Daveler and Chrissy Graf. Fellow seniors, Nicole Grindle and Amanda Smith, have each been on the team for three years. Each senior has contributed something special throughout their tenure at Eastern.
But the team is not just about seniors. The 15 non-seniors on the team are also large contributors to the team’s success. In the MAC playoffs, first-year Tess Beckwith scored two goals and had one assist. Junior Jill DiRenzo also tallied a goal, as did junior Lauren Roe. Sophomore Amy Achey and first-year Katie Ruth also contributed superb defensive efforts in the team’s MAC Championship run.
In last year’s NCAA Tournament, the team defeated Salisbury in the 1st round before being knocked out by TCNJ in the 2nd round. This season, the sights are set just a little bit higher. On Saturday, the team clamped down on defense and defeated Wheaton (Mass.) 1-0. Hackman scored the only goal on an assist from first-year Tess Beckwith. On Sunday, the team rallied to beat Rowan by a score of 2-1, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA DIII Tournament for the first time in school history. Fittingly enough, Hackman scored both goals on assists from Neef.
However far in the tournament the team gets, they will surely never forget this season, and for many of them, the past four seasons.
“It’s terrifying,” Hackman said about the thought of the season, and her soccer career, being over. “None of us really want to see it come to an end. That really puts a different spin on the end of the season.”