LU women’s soccer advances to BSC semifinals

Published 12:54 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A new crop of Lancers has Longwood University women’s soccer team headed back to the Big South semifinals.

Four years and one day since their last postseason victory, No. 5-seeded Longwood (8-9-2) gutted out an instant classic in the Big South quarterfinal against No. 4-seeded Gardner-Webb University (9-8-2), holding the host Runnin’ Bulldogs scoreless through two overtimes before pulling out a 4-2 shootout victory Friday night.

All-Big South honorable mention goalkeeper Maria Kirby, who earned her first career All-Big South award just eight hours prior to kickoff, showed that Longwood’s late-season surge is no fluke, making seven saves through regulation and two overtimes and two more in the shootout to push the Lancers to their third consecutive shutout and a 7-3-1 record over their past 11 games.

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Squaring off against an equally hot Gardner-Webb team that entered the tournament winners of five straight, Kirby outdueled Big South saves leader Keely Brown, who racked up nine saves against a Lancer onslaught led by freshman Emilie Kupsov’s four shots on goal.

After a scoreless first 110 minutes from both keepers, however, Longwood finally broke through on the first three shots of the shootout to stake a 3-0 lead.
From there, senior defender Jayden Metzger drove the nail in the coffin by just beating Brown for the game-winner on Longwood’s fifth and final attempt of the third overtime segment.

“Well, that was fun,” said Longwood Head Coach Todd Dyer, whose last Big South Tournament win also came in a quarterfinal shootout, 3-0 against Liberty on Oct. 27, 2012.

“Both teams battled to the very end, and you hate to see anyone’s season end like that. We feel fortunate to advance, and Gardner-Webb deserves a lot of credit for the season they had this year.”

Longwood’s narrow victory snapped a five-game winning streak for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, who had not lost at home since a 2-1 double overtime defeat at the hands of Appalachian State University on Sept. 9.

Key to the defensive gameplan was neutralizing Gardner-Webb’s leading goal-scorer, Brandi Arey, who entered the matchup with a Big South-leading 78 shots and a team-high six goals. She blasted four of her game-high seven shots on goal, but Kirby stopped every one before stonewalling her one last time on Gardner-Webb’s opening shot of the shootout.

That one-on-one save was the first of two straight in the shootout for Kirby, who followed the block of Arey with another against Justine Ibarra. Kirby made those stops diving to both sides, allowing shootout goals from Janese Quick, Christina Corbin and Kupsov to push the Lancers to a 3-0 advantage before Metzger drove home the game-winner on Longwood’s fifth attempt.

“I’m just so proud of everyone,” said Kirby, who has allowed just one goal during her past six games. “It was a complete team effort, and we’re super excited to be advancing.”

The shutout was Longwood’s eighth of the season and third straight, extending a stretch of 358 consecutive minutes in which Longwood’s vaunted backfield has not allowed a goal. Kirby has stopped all 11 shots on goal she has faced during that stretch, while the defensive quartet of All-Big South first-teamer Sydney Wallace and seniors Gina D’Orazio, Jayden Metzger and Jessica O’Bryant have limited opponents to just 26 shots total.

“Once again our team defense was our strength, and obviously Kirby did her thing in the shootout,” said Dyer, whose Lancers allow just 0.90 goals per game, second lowest in the Big South. “We’ll relish this, rest and recover, and enjoy watching the other three quarterfinals this weekend. For now, how ‘bout them Lancers!?”

The upset win over fourth-seeded Gardner-Webb propels the Lancers to the Big South semifinals for the second time in school history and the first time since a quarterfinal win over Liberty in 2012, which also came via shootout in the Lancers’ first year as a member of the conference.

Longwood will now move on to face No. 1-seeded High Point University on Friday at 5 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. The Lancers battled High Point to a 0-0 draw on the road on Oct. 2.