After a 1-0 victory over Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday, Nov. 4, the Wheaton Women’s Soccer team won the CCIW Tournament Championship and earned an automatic bid to play in the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer tournament.
Despite being double-covered throughout the game, the game-winning goal was scored early in the first half by freshman forward Izzy Oliver. Wheaton’s top scorer this season and the player with the most points in the conference.
“We focused on playing our game during the tournament,” Oliver said about her team’s tournament strategy. “We took it one game at a time and focusing on scoring early.”
“Our focus going into the tournament was to take it one game at a time and play as hard as we can doing what we do well,” junior midfielder Maddie Peebles said.
The Thunder outshot IWU nine shots to six, and six of Wheaton’s shots were on goal. Senior captain goaltender Kathryn McGregor was able to shutout IWU by making multiple diving saves when it looked like Titans would score.
Eight games ago, Wheaton was 5-4-3, but have ended their season 13-4-3 by winning the last eight games. “The tough start to the season served to help us develop as a team,” McGregor said.
According to the online statistics from the game, there were 647 people in attendance at the championship, which is more than four times the number of people that came to the home season opener when weather was warmer and more dry. There were plenty of IWU fans in attendance as well.
Wheaton played a physical game, which resulted in four fouls, but there were no penalties given to either team at any point during the game. The Thunder had more opportunities to set up a score from a corner kick with four corner kicks in total. It was a very good game for freshman goalie Kelli McCarthy of Illinois Wesleyan, but ultimately the one goal that got past her would cost her team the game.
The majority of play was spent within IWU’s own zone because Wheaton was able to contain the ball there and keep pressure on their defense.
Oliver was named the CCIW Women’s Soccer Newcomer of the Year for her performance this season, and Peebles was named CCIW Women’s Soccer Player of the Year as well. Head Coach Pete Felske was named the CCIW Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year, and four other players earned All-Conference honors: senior captain Sarah Van Wingerden (first team), freshman defender Sarah Tomich (second team), senior Morgan Whitman (second team), and McGregor (second team).
According to the NCAA, 43 conference tournament champions across the country were awarded automatic bids as well as one team from an individual institution/non-automatic qualifying conference. The final 20 teams were selected from teams that did not win their conference. Once there are four teams remaining, those four teams will travel to Greensboro, NC for the semifinals and the final championship game.
“It’s a great feeling to be back in the tournament after missing it last year, and we are so excited for the opportunity to continue our season,” McGregor said.
Ten years ago, the Wheaton Women’s Soccer team won their last NCAA Division III Champions title. That team went 27-0 in their whole season, and Wheaton had two women score four goals in the NCAA tournament to lead the rest of the Division III players. This season would be quite different from that season.
Arguably one of the top teams in the country ten years ago, Wheaton is ranked 23 by the recent coaches poll this year. Oliver is Wheaton’s top scorer with 13 goals this season, but Wheaton’s top scorer ten years ago had 27 goals during her season.
The 2017 Wheaton’s team focus will be different from the 2007 team focus. “Tournament mentally is keep players able to play ,” Oliver said. “Everyone must be ready to give better than their best, and to do their job on the field. We want to play our game and do it well. One game at a time.”
Wheaton’s first matchup with be on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Dubuque, Iowa against Knox College. Knox currently have a record of 14-5-2 and won the Midwest Conference tournament after beating Monmouth College 3-1. Knox’s top scorer this season was senior forward and number twelve Kayla Brown who scored 12 goals this season as well as having one assist. There will be a live stream of the game on the Wheaton Women’s soccer website.
“Heading into our game against Knox, we are focusing on continuing the momentum and confidence we built up through conference,” McGregor said.