By Amelia Sniffin
Although the Wheaton Women’s Soccer team faced numerous injuries throughout the 2019 season, the 6th-ranked Thunder battled their way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA postseason tournament, where they lost to the University of St. Thomas in a shootout.
The Thunder’s impressive 18-1-1 record at the time and 21st conference title allowed Wheaton to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. They were led by Head Coach Pete Felske, recently named CCIW Coach of the Year for the 13th time.
“It gave us confidence that we were ranked so high,” said Captain Sarah Tomich, the back-to-back CCIW Defensive Player of the year. “I don’t know if we necessarily believed that about ourselves because our season was so rough due to injuries, but knowing that the NCAA thought of our team that highly made us pumped and ready to play.”
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Wheaton set the bar high with their decisive 3-0 victory against the Webster Gorloks. A hesitation move from Jensen Ellis at the top of the box created space for the Thunder’s first goal of the match — her eighth of the season. Sara Bakke scored the second goal to give Wheaton a 2-0 lead going into halftime. Junior Isabelle Oliver assisted by fellow junior Hannah Max put in the Thunder’s third and final goal.
Wheaton then faced Wooster in the Fighting Scots’ first-ever appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Fighting Scots battled hard throughout the tight match, but Wheaton’s only goal at the 14:48 minute mark, another Jensen Ellis goal assisted by freshman forward Molly Thorne, made the difference. Sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Ketchum had a shutout with four saves in the full 90 minutes of the match.
“The whole game was intense,” 1st Team All CCIW Captain Carney Blake said. “We were dominating and we had the ball at our feet most of the game, but they were relentless.”
The Thunder faced the 19th-ranked St. Thomas Tommies in the Sweet 16.
Ellis started Wheaton off strong, stealing the ball from St. Thomas to assist Oliver at the 16:19 minute mark. St. Thomas responded with a goal just six minutes later to tie the game.
Out of halftime, the Tommies pushed ahead with a goal at the 67:33 mark.
Following the goal, freshman defender Sarah Max was fouled inside the 18-yard mark, giving the Thunder the opportunity to tie the match. Blake converted it to knot the game 2-2. Blake’s 5th goal of the season was essential with just three minutes remaining in the match.
No goals were scored in the first or second overtime, but Wheaton controlled the tempo. The Thunder had a 2-1 edge in shots on goal in the first overtime and a 1-0 shots on goal ratio in the second.
Following both overtime periods, the game remained a draw, bringing it to a shootout, and the Tommies came out on top. They outscored the Thunder 4-2, although not without a notable performance by Ketchum. She had five saves throughout the match and totaled 68 saves in 1,777 minutes this season.
“I think it’s challenging for her when we dominate games because she doesn’t get a lot of action. If the other team does get by, she has to be mentally prepared and she always does a great job of that,” Tomich said.
Ketchum earned 2nd Team All-CCIW Honors thanks to her eight shutouts and 0.48 goals against average. Junior Izzy McNally also earned 2nd Team All-CCIW honors despite getting injured in the last regular season game. Both Ketchum and McNally were named to the 2019 United Soccer Coaches All-Central Region First team, along with Tomich, Blake and Bakke. Ketchum was a Second Team honoree.
“It is hard to lose and go out after working all season for those last couple games,” Blake said. “We know we have to do it all over again next season to get back to where we were. Being able to accomplish all we did was great, but now we have to do it all again and better.”
Looking forward to next season, the Thunder captains said they feel encouraged. Expect Wheaton to be back stronger next year and hungry for their fourth National Championship title.