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FGCU loses conference championship to Jacksonville on penalty kicks

The Florida Gulf Coast University women’s soccer team hosted the Atlantic Sun Championship matches on Friday, Nov. 8 and Sunday, Nov. 10.
On Friday, the first match of the semifinals was played between the Jacksonville University Dolphins and the Kennesaw State Owls. The Dolphins beat the Owls 2-0, advancing them to the A-Sun title match on Sunday. The second match played Friday was between the FGCU Eagles and the Mercer Bears.
The Eagles dominated the match Friday night against the Bears and advanced to the A-Sun final on Sunday. The match started slow, with both teams putting up shots, but it wasn’t until the 37th minute that FGCU got their first goal on the board. Ashley Parks played through to Tabby Tindell. Tindell had an amazing season, being named the A-Sun Freshman of the Year, All A-Sun first team and All A-Sun Freshman team selection. She was also the A-Sun leader in points, points per game, goals and goals per game. Tindell passed the ball to Shannen Wacker. Wacker, the All A-Sun Second Team selection, took a shot from the right corner that sailed past Bears’ starting goaltender Maggie Cropp. The Eagles went into halftime with 1-0 lead over Mercer. During the second half, it was Wacker who would make a play to give the Eagles a bump in their lead. She made a pass to Tindell, who scored the second goal against the Bears from inside the box. The Green and Blue played out the remainder of the game with heavy defense. FGCU’s Brittany Brown was named the A-Sun Goalkeeper of the Year, All A-Sun First Team selection and the A-Sun leader in goals against average and shutouts. With Brown gaining another shutout against Mercer, she was only forced to make one save. FGCU outshot Mercer 11-4 in Friday’s semifinal.
The Eagles came onto the pitch Sunday against the Dolphins with strong offense and tremendous defensive play. Emma Blackwell, All A-Sun first team selection and the team’s top defender, helped keep the Dolphins out of the box in the Eagles’ zone. The Eagles outshot the Dolphins 11-1 during the first half, but JU goalkeeper Sarah Sierra made four saves, keeping the Eagles off the board. The Dolphins stepped up their play, forcing Brown to make four saves during the second half. However, the Eagles still nearly tripled the Dolphins in shots with 14-5 in the half. After the regulation period ended with the score still at 0-0, the match went into double overtime.
After 110 minutes of play, the deciding result would go to penalty kicks in which the team with the best out of five would leave with the A-Sun title. The Eagles outshot the Dolphins 31-7 between regulation and overtime play, but the shootout would decide the result regardless. JU and FGCU went goal for goal against the keepers for the first three rounds. During the fourth round, the Dolphins scored on Brown and led 4-3 in the shootout. Melissa Arnold, Tindell and Paulina Speckmaier scored the first three rounds for FGCU.
When Brooke Sill stepped up to take her kick, the shot sailed wide. JU needed one shot from Adriana Rodrigues to make it behind Brown for the win. When the shot made in into the net, hearts sank throughout the FGCU Soccer Complex. The Jacksonville Dolphins celebrated their win of the title with a final score of 5-3. The FGCU Eagles mourned their loss with their family, friends and fans.
“I’m very proud of our team and the season we had and our performance today,” said head coach Jim Blankenship, the A-Sun Coach of the Year. “You don’t want to get to that moment when it comes down to PKs because then it’s a coin-flip. We had a lot of opportunities so hats-off to Jacksonville. Their goalie was outstanding and the defensive player of the year (Ally Lee) lived up to that billing.”
“It’s soccer. You play hard for 110 minutes, and it comes down to PKs. It’s just part of the game,” Speckmaier said. “You just have to live with it and move on. We’re going to keep working during the off-season. We need to keep working on everything: tactically, physically and mentally. We’ll be back next year with almost the exact same team. We work a lot on fitness, and that’s a big part of the game; it’s helped us dominate teams all season. We’ve been practicing PKs since the start of the conference play, and Brooke was dominating in them, but things happen.”
“We’re disappointed but that’s sports. If you do it long enough, you end up on both ends, and it’s not fun,” Blankenship said. “You have to use it to motivate and drive yourself. Now it’s about building back up. These kids who are seniors have never tasted defeat. Our guys are all feeling the wrath of the loss, and it’s about the drive to build back up.”
The Green and Blue didn’t win the title this year, but they will return next season with almost the same team and will strive to overcome the obstacles they faced this season. The FGCU women’s soccer team had a record-breaking and record-making season. With or without the title, the Lady Eagles made FGCU proud.

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