The Gillette College women’s soccer team earned a spot in the NJCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship with a victory over No. 13 Iowa Western on Friday.
The game went into a penalty kick shootout after neither team could break a 1-all tie that lasted more than 90 minutes, including two 10-minute overtime periods.
Pronghorns’ midfielder Molly Fehringer blasted a goal to the bottom-right of the net to win the shootout 4-3, and the No. 17 Pronghorns took a 1-1 (4-3) shootout win in the NJCAA North Plains District Championship at Pronghorn Field in Gillette.
“That situation in particular is just stressful. I knew the count in my head, and I knew that if I made it we would go to the national championship,” Fehringer said. “Definitely stressful, but it felt really good.”
Iowa Western (13-4-1) was the second nationally ranked opponent that Gillette College has beaten in the last week. The Pronghorns topped then-No. 3 Laramie County Community College 1-0 last weekend to win the Region IX Championship game and advance in the playoffs.
“This is a lot of fun. This is what we set forward to do this year,” said Pronghorns coach Nate Ulness. “So, we’re really excited to see what we’re going to do down in Florida.”
The Pronghorns (16-2-1) had to battle back from an early 1-0 deficit, something they haven’t been accustomed to. They won their previous 11 games giving up just five goals while scoring 41.
Iowa Western’s Estefania Cardona scored in the first 5 minutes of the game off of a free kick that got past Pronghorns’ goalkeeper Nia Trejo. It hit off the post and went into the net to make it 1-0.
“A lot of nerves and emotions played a big role in that first, whatever it was, like 10 minutes,” Pronghorns sophomore midfielder Kelsey Hogan said. “We settled down and we started possessing, and then we started just playing soccer again.”
At 25:23 left in the first half, Hogan redirected a corner kick toward the net by flicking her head back and smacking the ball with the back of her head. She followed her header to the front of the net, found the ball just in front of the goal line and buried it for a 1-all tie.
“We dominated play for stretches, and then we kind of went away from what we wanted to do for those little stretches where we didn’t have the game,” said Iowa Western coach Adam Sanchez. “But I think Gillette did enough to make those changes and make it a little more difficult on us.
“They’re building something good,” Sanchez added about the third-year program. “They did a great job hosting, built a really good team. It was really tough to break them down.”
Neither team scored for the rest of the first half, the entire second half and the two 10-minute overtime periods.
It took a penalty kick shootout to decide who will make a trip to Florida.
Iowa Western scored to make it 1-0 to start. Gillette’s Liliana Hernandez scored low-right to tie the shootout up. Iowa Western scored in the second round for a 2-1 lead. Hogan answered to tie the shootout 2-2.
Then Trejo made the save of the day when she picked her right side and dove through to stop the shot and gave the Pronghorns a chance to get ahead.
“I told her she needed to make one today, and she made one,” Ulness said. “(I said) we’re going to need one (big) save to win this game, and she had her moment.”
But Pronghorns’ defender Sarah Williams missed on her next shot to keep it even. Iowa Western scored next and Pronghorns’ midfielder Mary Niedzwiecki answered in the third round for a 3-3 tie.
Then, with the sun disappearing below the hills on the horizon and the home crowd standing at attention along the boundary line, Iowa Western missed high, and Fehringer ended the game with a goal to win in the fifth round 4-3.
“They were just way different than all the teams in our division. It was a new challenge for us, but it was a lot of fun,” Fehringer said. “You just had to bring up your intensity, otherwise they’d tear you to pieces.”
Next up for the Pronghorns is the NJCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship on Nov. 18-23 at Orlando Health Stadium in Melbourne, Florida. There will be 12 teams competing at the national tournament to decide the top NJCAA Division I women’s soccer team in the country.
“We work hard to prove other people wrong. We weren’t nationally ranked all season even though we were 16-2 or something like that,” Hogan said. “We’re like, ‘Fine. Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s beat another nationally ranked team.’”