Navy women’s soccer has three seniors on the 2020-21 roster.
Those three “firsties” as they are referred to in Naval Academy parlance stepped up big during Saturday’s Patriot League tournament final.
Senior goalie Molly Swiger came into the game when it went to penalty kicks and stood tall between the pipes, while classmate Emily Keast scored the decisive goal as Navy beat Colgate to capture its second straight Patriot League championship.
Senior midfielder Kristina Dzhandzhapanyan scored the lone goal in regulation for Navy, which earned an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. The game ended in a 1-1 tie after 110 minutes of action and went to penalty kicks after neither team was able to score during a pair of 10-minute overtime sessions.
Swigert stopped two of the three shots taken by Colgate and that gave Keast the opportunity to clinch the victory in the fourth round as Navy beat Colgate 4-1 on penalty kicks.
“What a fantastic moment for a group of seniors that has led during the most trying times in Division I sports,” Navy coach Carin Gabarra said.
“I’m so proud of our three seniors that had a hand in every single part of this win. This has been such a long, difficult season but no matter what we found a way. That’s a testament to the leadership that Tina, Molly and Emily bring to this program,” Gabarra added.
Navy was making its 14th appearance in the Patriot League tournament final in 28 seasons under Gabarra. The Midshipmen have now claimed five championships (2003, 2006, 2007, 2019, 2021).
“Every conference championship is special and this one maybe even more so considering the circumstances,” Gabarra said. “There have been so many ups and downs and so many uncertainties this whole year.”
Navy began the spring season with a 2-1 overtime loss to Colgate in a contest played in torrential rain at the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility in Annapolis. The Midshipmen avenged that lone Patriot League loss when it counted most.
Dzhandzhapanyan gave Navy an early lead when she scored in the 13th minute off an assist from junior midfielder Carolyn Mang (C. Milton Wright). Mang played a deep ball up the middle to Dzhandzhapanyan, who zipped past Colgate’s line of defenders and found 40 yards of open turf between her and the goal.
Dzhandzhapanyan dribbled to the 18-yard marker then chipped a shot over the head of onrushing goalkeeper Sophia Boggs into the empty net at 12:21.
That awakened host Colgate, which increased its pressure in the Navy defensive zone and wound up creating three straight corner kicks. The third time was the charm for the Red Raiders with Lauren Rougas leaping to head home a lofting pass from Ruby Diodati, tying the score 1-1 at 40:09.
“That’s the nature of a championship game. You go down a goal, you’re going to get some energy and momentum, which Colgate did,” Gabarra said. “That’s a quality team. They had the run of play at times, we had the run of play at times.”
It was more of the same in the second half with both the Mids and Raiders registering four shots through the 80th minute. Starting goalie Mattie Gallagher made two of her five saves during that stretch. Keast got off a dangerous shot for Navy in the 56th minute, but it was smothered by Boggs.
Aggressive end-to-end action highlighted the final six minutes of regulation as Gallagher navigated a cluttered box and handled a header by Lyna Schaffer.
A little over a minute later, it was Navy’s turn to challenge for the go-ahead goal as freshman forward Kassidy Borden and junior defender Avery Fries both got off good shots following a corner kick. Borden’s shot was blocked before Fries gathered the rebound and ripped a shot that was stopped by Boggs.
“We told our players at halftime that this is about rolling your sleeves up and getting to work,” Gabarra said. “One big moment defines big games, and we were looking for someone to step up in that big moment.”
Two overtimes could not settle matters and the match went to penalty kicks. While Gallagher played well throughout regulation and the two overtimes, Gabarra turned to Swiger to guard the goal for the penalty kick session.
“We decided that before the playoffs began. Molly is our best goalkeeper on penalty kicks. She always has been. That’s the simple answer,” Gabarra said. “She’s very experienced and has a little bit of intimidation factor as a goalie going against penalty kicks.”
Freshman Kat Healey went first and finished her attempt to give Navy a 1-0 lead. Colgate quickly tied the count, but that is when Swiger stepped up — stopping the next two attempts by the home team.
Swiger dove to the right to deny Sage DiGiulo’s shot in the second round then leapt high to her left to punch away a shot by Schaffer.
“It gives you a lot of confidence and I think it does get into the other team’s heads,” Gabarra said of Swiger stopping two of the three shots she faced. “Those were two big-time saves against two of their better players. It’s not like they were miss-hit shots. Molly stepped up in two key moments.”
Meanwhile, Borden and Mang scored on their penalty kicks to give Navy a 3-1 lead and set up the clincher by Keast, who beat the netminder with a well-placed shot up the middle.
“I thought it was a really good, entertaining, back-and-forth, fun to watch soccer game,” Gabarra said. “I give Colgate a huge round of applause: Just a very well-coached, disciplined, talented and very technical soccer team. They were better than us in many areas today.”
Gabarra was grateful to the athletic department and the academy medical staff for ensuring Navy women’s soccer was able to play 10 games during the 2020-21 academic year. She reserved special praise for Gregg Calhoun, athletic trainer for the women’s soccer program, for keeping the entire team “healthy and safe.”
Gabarra also credited assistants Rob Blanck and Mike Melton, calling coaching decisions a “group effort.”