Pensacola, Fla. - The University of Tampa's women's soccer team ended their dream season when they fell to Grand Valley State 2-0 in the first national semifinal of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.
On a cold and blustery day in Pensacola, the Spartans never seemed like they could get on track against a tough Laker team that was ranked eighth in the nation. Countless opportunities were squashed by the solid defense of Grand Valley. Juniors Sue Christenson and Emily Berner seemed to turn away every chance the Spartans had to score.
In the 15th minute of the match, Division II leading scorer Katy Tafler put the ball between the legs of Tampa goalkeeper Shannon Aitken for a 1-0 lead. The Spartans quickly countered, and not five minutes later sophomore Courtney Evans shot a laser from about 25 yards out that ricocheted off the keeper's hands and then the crossbar. That turned out to be the closest the Spartans would get all day.
The physicality of the match was something that the Spartans had not seen most of the year and it took its toll. "They were very physical," said Tampa coach Bobby Johnston. "They took us out of our game." The Spartan frustration mounted as three yellow cards were handed out early in the second half.
In the 65th minute, Grand Valley used a quick counter to go ahead 2-0 on a break away goal by Irie Dennis. Tampa had the ball in the Grand Valley end and when they came up empty, when the Lakers quickly sent it up to the sprinting Dennis who ran past two defenders and put the ball in the back of the net to seal the win.
The University of Tampa finished the year with an 18-3-1 record. "We had a great year," said Johnston. "It did not quite end the way we wanted it too but we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about."
In the second semifinal, former University of Tampa assistant coach Gerry Lucey had his West Chester University team geared up to face a tough Metro State team. Lucey's team took the lead 1-0 early in the second half but a goal late in the game and another in overtime sealed the deal for Metro State 2-1.