SAN ANTONIO — Even on a wet sloppy day, the Wheaton (Ill.) women’s soccer team likes to play at frenetic pace.
Neither Mother Nature, who decided to send a rain storm to San Antonio’s Blossom Stadium on Friday afternoon, nor the Ithaca Bombers could slow down the Thunder once it got its game in gear.
The result was a 2-0 victory for Wheaton in the semifinals of the Division III Women’s Soccer Championships. The Thunder, which received goals from freshman Anna Seabolt and senior Jaime Orewiler in the second half, advanced to play Messiah for the national championship Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
The Thunder actually felt the tightly-cut grass at the finals site helped them with their fast-paced style.
Wheaton, 23-1-2, entered the match with plenty of offensive momentum having erased a two-goal deficit with 17 minutes remaining in their 4-2 victory against Washington-St. Louis in the quarterfinals last weekend. In that match, the Thunder scored three times in less than three minutes.
Wheaton immediately took advantage of its speed edge against Ithaca, which finished 15-4-3. The Thunder outshot Ithaca 15-2 in the first half, but the score remained 0-0 at the intermission.
“In the last 48 hours, we had a lot of emotion and adrenaline building up,” said Wheaton coach Pete Felske, whose program will be looking for its fourth NCAA title. “You could see in the way we were playing. We were a little chaotic and a little rushed. Ten to 15 minutes in the game, we settled down a little bit.”
The main reason the match was scoreless after the first 45 minutes was the play of Ithaca goalkeeper Becca Salant, who made several brilliant saves and received help from the cross bar and the posts to keep Wheaton off the scoreboard.
“I had to stay on my toes and be ready for the shots,” said Salant, who faced 28 shots and made 11 saves. “They like to have a lot of ball movement in the middle of the field. Our defenders did better by keeping their feet later in the game.”
Wheaton finally put a ball in the net when Seabolt put in a header off a cross from Ali Kopelman. Seabolt made a nice run to the middle of the penalty box and placed the shot into the lower right corner in the 53rd minute.
The goal was a welcomed sight, especially after all the good chances that didn’t come to fruition.
“It was frustrating to hit the cross bar in the first half,” said Seabolt, who has 13 goals this season. “I knew if we kept playing our game, we would get one.”
Orewiler added the second goal in the 73rd minute on a penalty kick. Her pass to teammate Katelyn Kishkunas caused an Ithaca defender to commit a foul in the box.
Orewiler calmly converted the penalty kick to put the game out of reach.
Now, she is ready to face Messiah in the finals. The last time Wheaton advanced to the championship match in 2008, Orewiler missed the contest with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“Being there a part of the team and being able to see it all was a great experience,” said Orewiler, who has 15 goals this season. “It help prepare me for this year. I wasn’t super involved, but for the past several years I’ve felt that us and Messiah have been going at it.”
Wheaton won NCAA Division III women’s soccer championship in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Messiah, which has played in eight consecutive national semifinals, captured crowns in 2005, ’07 and ’08. But this is the first time the two programs will meet with the championship trophy at stake.
“I have a lot of respect with what [Messiah coach] Scott Frey does with the team at Messiah,” Felske said. “It feels good to be back. It feels like we keep coming back to the party they keep throwing every year. Thanks for the invitation.”