BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Georgia Southern’s Sydnie Van Curen notched the decisive score in the seventh round of penalty kicks as the eighth-seeded Eagles topped No. 3 seed Furman to win the 2012 Southern Conference Women’s Soccer Championship and claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The teams played to a scoreless draw through regulation and two golden-goal overtimes before the Eagles prevailed 5-4 in penalty kicks.
With the title on the line after four scoreless periods of play, the match shifted to penalties to decide the league champion. With the teams knotted at 4 after the first five rounds, they shifted to golden-goal PKs. After misses by each team in the sixth round, Van Curen put hers into the left side netting to put the Eagles (10-7-5) ahead.
Furman (16-3-3) sent Ali Simpson to the line and the sophomore defender put her shot off the crossbar, clinching the match for Georgia Southern.
The Eagles won their first league title and became the first 8 seed to win the SoCon tournament in its 19-year history. In fact, no team seeded lower than fourth had ever won. GSU, which qualified for the tournament on the final day of the regular season, knocked out No. 1 seed UNCG in the first round and No. 5 seed Elon in the semifinals before completing its run against the Paladins.
In the first SoCon final since 2008 to go to penalty kicks, the teams traded makes for the first three rounds. Georgia Southern’s Courtney Collins, Emily Hirano and Nora El-Shami all scored on their attempts, while Furman’s Stephanie DeVita, Caitlin Shelton and Hannah Stanifer countered with makes of their own.
McKenna Storey pushed the Eagles’ fourth attempt wide right to open the door for Furman, but Alyssa Althoff’s shot went wide left as the teams remained tied.
Zoe Van Gorder made her attempt to put GSU up 5-4, and Furman’s Martha Hall – the lone senior on the squad – buried hers to send the match to sudden-death kicks.
Furman keeper Rose Hull made a huge save on Cori Dulmage’s attempt to put the Paladins in the driver’s seat, but India Robinson put her attempt off the crossbar to give the Eagles new life. Van Curen took advantage, and Simpson also found the iron to send the Eagles pouring onto the field to celebrate.
Furman outshot GSU 16-6 for the match, including a 9-3 advantage in the second half.
The Paladins had their most dangerous opportunities late in the second frame, but tournament Most Outstanding Player Katie Merson made big save after big save in the net to keeper Furman at bay.
In the 80th minute, DeVita put header on frame from 6 yards out, but Merson dove to her left and made a one-handed save to keep the game scoreless.
Minutes later, Stanifer played a through ball to DeVita, who split two defenders and got free for the one-on-one with Merson, but Merson was again up to the task, sprawling out to make the save and pushing it just wide of the post in the 87th minute.
The Eagles also had their chances in regulation. In the 21st minute, Van Curen got loose on a breakaway but put her shot from the top of the box just inches high.
Early in the second half, GSU’s Stephanie Gratto put a long-range shot on frame, but Hull was there for the stop.
Collins had another solid scoring chance in the 76th minute, getting a loose ball at the top of the 6-yard box, but a Furman defender and Hull converged on Collins as she sent her shot wide right.
Merson made another diving stop on Carlee Storey’s attempt in the 98th minute and picked up another stop on DeVita’s long-range strike in the 106th.
Merson finished with six saves for her league-best 10th shutout of the season. Hull had two saves in picking up her eighth of the season.
Merson was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Van Gorder, Nora El-Shami and Emily Hirano. Furman put Hall, Emily Graves and Catie Moore on the team, while Michaela Hermann and Sarah Schaidle represented College of Charleston and Claire O’Keeffe and Jaclyn Wood represented Elon.
Georgia Southern will learn its postseason fate on Monday as the selection show will broadcast on NCAA.com at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.
2012 SoCon Women’s Soccer Championship
Michaela Hermann, College of Charleston
Sarah Schaidle, College of Charleston
Claire O’Keeffe, Elon
Jaclyn Wood, Elon
Emily Graves, Furman
Martha Hall, Furman
Catie Moore, Furman
Nora El-Shami, Georgia Southern
Emily Hirano, Georgia Southern
Katie Merson , Georgia Southern
Zoe Van Gorder, Georgia Southern
Most Outstanding Player
Katie Merson, Georgia Southern