Eagles clinch first ever championship in dramatic fashion

Randall Hampton

Tears mixed with cheers as the team rushed the field in excitement after the Georgia Southern University women’s soccer team claimed the title of Southern Conference champs after knocking off the Furman University Paladins 1-0 (5-4) on Nov. 4.

The game was intense as both teams failed to capitalize on some scoring opportunities.  Furman’s failures were due in large part to the defense of GSU. This win was not only historic for the Eagles as the first ever SoCon title they have claimed, but it was also the first time an eighth-seeded team has claimed the title in the SoCon.

Senior defender Zoe Van Gorder showed why she was named first team all SoCon as she kept SoCon Player of the year freshman forward Stephanie DeVita in check.

When Furman did find scoring chances, junior goalkeeper Katie Merson slammed the door. Merson had six saves, several of them were one on one with DeVita.

Late in the second half Merson dove at a shot by DeVita and got her right hand on it.  The ball just barely missed, creeping outside the right post.  Merson had been a wall between the pipes with four shutouts the last four games.

The player affectionately known as Oscar to her teammates was named SoCon tournament MVP.

Senior forward Courtney Collins stepped up and went top shelf to get the shootout scoring started. Each team would miss twice but sophomore forward Sydnie Van Curen would get the job done as GSU’s seventh kicker.

After Van Curen handled the championship pressure all eyes in the stadium turned to Furman’s seventh kicker. Merson stood in net as Furman sophomore defender Ali Simpson lined up her shot.

The crowd erupted as the ball bounced off the crossbar and made the Eagles champions.

GSU needed more than the two overtimes used to knock off the Elon University Phoenix on Nov. 2 to dispatch the Paladins.  In that game freshman forward Emily Hirano used her head to send GSU to the finals.

She put home an assist by Collins and put away a tired Elon team in the 102nd minute.

GSU showed a flare for the dramatic as the team has won every tournament game in the 89th minute or later.  The 1-0 victory margin seemed to be the Eagles lucky number.

The Eagles got hot at the perfect time winning its last two regular season games.  The team rode that wave of momentum straight to the SoCon championship.

With their improbable championship run GSU became the first eight seed in SoCon tournament history to win the crown.  The win also ended a 17 match losing streak to Furman.

GSU will have a chance to continue its record setting season with its first ever NCAA tournament appearance.

The senior quartet of Zoe Van Gorder, Collins, midfielder Carlee Storey and defender Morgan Springer will leave the team with a distinction none of their predecessors can claim, SoCon champs.