Nov. 6, 2010

Courtesy of Otterbein Athletics

An overtime goal from senior Tara Smith gave the third-ranked Otterbein women's soccer team a 1-0 victory over Ohio Northern Saturday afternoon in the championship match of the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament.

The win gives the Cards, 18-0-1, its third consecutive OAC tournament title, and secures an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

The loss ends Ohio Northern's season at 13-6-1 overall, marking its eighth runner-up finish in the conference tournament.

Otterbein saw a great opportunity just three minutes into the match when a saved shot bounced off the hands of ONU goalkeeper Erin Waehner, but Cardinal sophomore Jessica Yaney's follow-up attempt was blasted wide.

Team Celebration
Teammates rush to mob Tara Smith.
The Cards kept the pressure on early, attempting six shots and four corner kicks in the first 26 minutes, and almost scored when a rope from senior Lindsey Rudibaugh sailed just over the cross bar.

A scrum in the box during thre 20th minute nearly gave Otterbein an opportunity to slide a shot in, but the ONU defense was able to clear the ball away from the line.

Northern stayed poised and nearly made its first shot count when Sami Atkinson found her way to an incoming corner kick in the 29th minute. A header attempt looked as if it had a chance to find the back of the net, but Otterbein's Alyssa Hale was there to clear the ball off the line.

The match would head to intermission scoreless, with the Cards holding a 7-1 shot advantage.

The Polar Bears found a little offensive tempo of their own as the second half progressed, taking six corners but coming up empty each time as the Otterbein defense stood strong.

Otterbein saw some daylight on the offensive end as the second half progressed, but no opportunities were able to be converted as the match headed for overtime.

Sophomore Rachel Denz had a clean look in the second minute of overtime, but the shot went high.

Smith then came up with the game-winner in the 93rd minute after the Cards won a corner kick, taking a headed ball from Rudibaugh in the box and heading it into the left side of the net.

"I can't even describe it," Smith said shortly afterwards. "When I'm done playing soccer, I'm never going to have another reason to jump on top of people and pile up in celebration. It feels so good to score for my team, because they're all my best friends. This is the most exciting time in my life."

While Otterbein holds a #3 national ranking, the team entered the match ranked sixth in the Great Lakes Region, and perhaps needing a victory to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"I couldn't be happier for these girls," said Head Coach Brandon Koons. "They've put together a wonderful season so far and the stress of the rankings can be erased now."

"I'm so relieved we don't have to wait for a committee to decide our fate," Koons added. "This team deserves to be in the tournament, and now we can relax and smile for a few days."

Smith also touched on the players mindset of the rankings.

"We talked about it once and then it was done with, we didn't dwell on it," she said. "We've had a great season and we know that, but it's a respect thing. Everything happens for a reason, and it feels good to go out, win, and keep moving forward."

Otterbein held a 12-6 shot advantage, while Northern attempted one more corner kick (7-6). Waehner made five saves in goal for ONU while Otternein keeper Tara Carter had one.

The team will learn of its first round opponent Monday morning when the NCAA releases the Division III women's soccer bracket.