Nov. 21, 2010

Courtesy of Florida Tech Athletics

TAMPA, Fla. -
For the first time in its brief eight-year history, the Florida Tech womens soccer team has advanced to the NCAA Final Four following a 5-4 shootout win over Lenoir-Rhyne Sunday afternoon at Pepin Stadium.

The Panthers (10-6-5) and Bears (19-2-2) battled to a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes of regulation and two sudden-death overtime periods. When the pressure was on both teams in the shootout, the Crimson and Gray rose to the challenge.

Lenoir-Rhynes Catherine Hauck converted the first penalty kick. Carly Hunt then countered to even up the shootout at one. On the ensuing strike, taken by Elizabeth Hawes, Mist Eliasdottir read the attempt correctly and made a diving save. After Paula Lillsjo gave her team a 2-1 lead, Audrey Moore missed on the Bears third kick. Although the Panthers were off target on the next two attempts and Lenoir-Rhyne made two in a row to take a 3-2 advantage, Techs confidence did not sway.

Casey Lademann fired in her teams fifth attempt to make it 3-3. Dana Hillmann would convert Lenoir-Rhynes sixth chance before Eliasdottir came out of goal and shed her gloves to boot in the shootout tying goal. She then re-tightened her mitts and forced Denesha Soto to misfire, allowing Kelly Whittaker a chance to make additional history for the program. Whittaker stepped up to the rock and sent it into the net, giving the Panthers the shootout victory.

When I approached the penalty kick, I tried to remain as calm as possible,” she said. I thought about how much I love soccer, this team, how much I enjoy them and that was really it. Once the ball went into the goal, I couldnt believe it.”

Panther head coach Fidgi Haig could not be more excited for his team, which had to fight back from a one-goal deficit in the first half.

Im very happy for the girls to be rewarded for the effort they gave in the second half to tie the game,” he said. It required a tremendous amount of effort against a strong, experienced team. During halftime, I told the girls how close (Lenoir-Rhyne) was to going two goals up. We came out with a completely different attitude in the second half. (The girls) put all of their initial fear and everything behind them. They were resilient and displayed a never give up attitude.

Paula and Tina (Edwards) also worked incredibly hard throughout the second half. Although they were tired and their legs were dead, they pushed through as did the entire team. Mist once again did an excellent job in PKs. She saved a shot and then had the guts to volunteer for our sixth penalty kick because some of the girls were hesitant. She has a winning attitude and a great deal of confidence. Those two traits are contagious on our team.”

Lenoir-Rhyne took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Amber Holt in the 17th minute. Despite being outshot in the first 45 minutes, the Panthers turned up the heat on their opponent in the second half. Megan Stone had two good looks, but Bears goalkeeper Caitlin Scruggs came up with a save on both attempts. All of Techs hard work finally paid off in the 71st minute.

Lademann fielded a free kick approximately 25 yards out and sent it on goal. Scruggs made the diving save, however, she wasnt able to control the shot. Ann-Marie Helgestad pounced on the ball and blasted it into the net to tie the game.

Ann-Marie has done a tremendous job all year long against some of the top forwards,” Haig said. She works so hard and Im so happy for her to score the equalizer. The goal shows you her character and how much impact you can have on the offensive side of the field as a defender. Shes been the backbone of the team since the first day she arrived.”

The goal was Helgestads first of the season and second of her three-year career.

Before the free kick, I told everybody to be ready for the rebound,” she said. Once I saw the loose ball, I ran up to it and kicked it as hard as I could. Ive waited the whole season to score. Fidgi told me that it would be my destiny to score the game-winning goal last weekend and I actually scored the game-tying goal today. The goal couldnt have felt better and it couldnt have come at a better time.

Im so excited right now. Although our record doesnt look as good as the other teams in the Final Four, were going in as the underdog. We dont have any pressure on us. Were not going to stop working and getting ready for our next match.”

Tech will now set its sights on preparing for the Final Four, slated to begin Thursday, Dec. 2 at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. In the semifinals, the Panthers will take on Grand Valley State, who downed Fort Lewis 5-0 Sunday afternoon. On the opposite side of the bracket, UC San Diego will play St. Rose. The two winners will meet in the National Championship on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Bellarmine.

The Sunshine State Conference is one of the most challenging conferences in the nation,” Haig added. We need to make sure we represent the conference and all of its teams well in Louisville.”