The Oxford College of Emory University spent the Region XX / District H Championships using possession to control the tempo of its playoff matches, strength to withstand the physical challenges of their northern opponents, and ultimately riding the team’s pair of outstanding goalkeepers to victory and a berth in the National Championships. After a dominating semi-final display against a Potomac State (WV) College team that came only to defend and play for penalties, Oxford outlasted perennial Region power Montgomery College to take the title.
En route to Maryland for the championships despite being the top seeded team, the Eagles returned to play their semi-final match at Anne Arundel Community College, on a beautiful fall day Oxford started brightly. From the opening kickoff, the game featured one-way traffic headed for the Catamounts goal. With Potomac State content to defend with all eleven players, the Eagles used slick passes and strong attacking performances from Selina Kelete and Meredith Broyles in midfield to break through the Catamounts. With the Oxford attack looking dangerous, Potomac State resorted to a “tactical” response as the game was held up several times by players who seemed to be badly injured but were able to return to the match. The Eagles’ best chance of the opening half fell to Allison Holmes who latched onto Kenyanna Taylor’s pinpoint cross at the far post and hit a perfect shot back to the open side of the net only to be denied by the onrushing Catamount goalkeeper.
In the second stanza, Oxford turned the screw again and again despite a half repeatedly delayed by injury. Rachel West headed Monique Salazar’s free kick just wide, several dead ball attempts flashed just outside the frame of the goal, and Karina Collins, Mackenzie Ward, Selina Kelete, and Meredith Broyles all tested the Catamount keeper to no avail. With overtime looming despite the Eagles’ dominance, Karina Collins, Meredith Broyles, Selina Kelete, and Kristen Eichamer all fought to keep the ball in possession at the top of the Potomac State penalty area, allowing Becca Head to step up and fire a 30 yard rocket that found the right side of the net in 83rd minute. After breaking through, the Eagles continued to attack. Their best chance fell to Abby Olson after Rachel West’s header rebounded off the crossbar and over the head of Selina Kelete, but the sophomore defender finished just over the bar and the game ended 1-0.
Defending Region finalist Montgomery College presented a different challenge after they defeated a higher seeded Howard CC for 2nd straight season. The Raptors were clearly more comfortable as Oxford settled into their surroundings at Prince George’s Community College early in the match, but as defenders Mackenzie Ward, Kira Zagorc, Abby Olson, Carson Hagan, Casey Frew, and Kako Yamada remained stout in front of Daria Zarzeka in goal as the Eagles started to get a foothold in the match. The first big opportunity to score fell to Kenyanna Taylor after Abby Olson served a 3rd consecutive corner kick into the penalty area, but her shot from 5 yards out bounced just wide. In the second stanza, Oxford’s possession began to tell. After Zarzeka palmed a 20 yard blast over the bar, Montgomery was restricted to the occasional counterattack, and cynical defensive tactics as Oxford’s attack gained rhythm but still couldn’t pick up the elusive winning goal. So, for the second time this season, the Eagles headed to overtime.
The extra stanza was dominated by Oxford. In the first period, Karina Collins turned Montgomery’s central defender only have her shot saved. In the second, Meredith Broyles picked up a Raptor turnover and broke in behind the defense, only to have her effort saved as well and it was on to penalties. Becca Head, fresh from her match winning goal in the semifinal, stepped into the goal while Zarzeka took her place among the shooters at midfield. After Selina Kelete and Meredith Broyles buried their penalties, and Head made the first two of what became FIVE penalty kick saves in one shootout, it looked like Oxford would cruise to victory, but finding the third goal suddenly became elusive and with the score tied 2-2 after the first five shooters, the shootout itself went into sudden death. Montgomery’s sixth shooter scored, so Karina Collins stepped up needing to make her kick to keep the Eagles alive. She duly buried her shot into the corner of the net, pushing the pressure back to Montgomery. Head once again stonewalled a black clad shooter and Zarzeka, who had already contributed 200 shutout minutes, stepped out to take Oxford’s turn in the 8th round. She buried her spot kick in the back of the net setting off a bench clearing celebration and punching the Eagles’ ticket to the National Championship tournament.
The NJCAA National Tournament will be played November 12th – 15th at Ocean County Community College in Toms River, NJ. The tournament website is housed at http://www.occvikings.com/NJCAA_Soccer_Natl_Championship/2015_NJCAA_natl_championship