This wasn't the final result the Cyclones wanted, but they left it all on the field today. In their best played match of the season, the No. 15-ranked Cyclones battled through two high-energy halves with the No. 9-ranked Monroe Community College (NY) Tribunes in the NJCAA North Central District Championship to determine who would compete at nationals, falling just short, 2-1.
If only a couple things went differently, the Cyclones would have had a guaranteed entry to the national championship. Going into this game, the Region IV champions not only had the home field advantage, but also had a tactical game plan, which they executed. They knew which Tribunes were a threat but also knew how to exploit some areas of their game.
Monroe is an offensive threat, especially with the nation's leading scorer on their team, and the Cyclones knew they had to hold them to as few goals as possible. A tight defensive block held back the high-scoring Tribunes, and a number of chances on the attacking side gave the Cyclones opportunities. However, they could only find the net once.
A very physical game, the Tribunes didn't soar one over goalkeeper Patricia Rzadkosz until the 23rd minute. They slid another one past her diving form to go up 2-0. Yesenia Perez had a header that bounced off the crossbar, along with a number of close calls by the Cyclones. With 13 seconds left in the first half, Karen Montoya received a perfect pass from Mairead Ruane to get her team on the board, 2-1.
The second half saw a more intense push from the Cyclones, who held the Tribunes off and made some offensive threats themselves. Rzadkosz had several big saves. "Our intensity was better for sure. At halftime we were thinking, 'It's our game, we're gonna win this'," said sophomore and team captain Brooke Janeczek.
A handful of questionable calls and near missed goals by the Cyclones could have changed the outcome. Even in the last 20 seconds, Moraine Valley had a corner kick scramble that was headed out by the Tribunes. This was anyone's game, but turned into a rare loss for the Cyclones. Although this determined who would go to nationals, Moraine Valley could still be voted in as an at-large bid with three other teams. That will be announced Monday, Nov. 5.
"This was not the outcome we wanted, but as a coach I couldn't have asked for a better group performance than the one we got. It was incredible and fun to watch. Just two really good teams going back and forth. Obviously, I'm upset about the two clear handballs in the box that went uncalled, but sometimes you just get the short end of the stick like that. We kept fighting, kept pushing, and I really thought we were going to get the equalizer somewhere in the second half," said head Coach Al Palar. "I am very proud of the group for how inspired they came out. Congratulations to the Monroe Tribunes. They have some special players and a great staff to lead them. Hopefully the NJCAA committee votes us in. We know we deserve to be there; we hope they do too."
As for the players, they're holding out hope but know they played their best game. "They were a really tough team, the best competition we've had all season, and we did really well with it. It could've gone either way," Janeczek said. "I was really nervous but if I wasn't, then I didn't care. There was a lot of pressure, but I think it made us play better. I've been looking back at my two years and how much I love my team and coaches. It's sad how it ended because I want to keep playing. There's still a chance, and I think we really, really deserve it."