Less than one month ago, Stony Brook Women’s Soccer senior forward Manuela Corcho figured she had played her last match at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in the team’s 1-0 loss to Albany on Oct. 19. The Seawolves finished their regular season with two straight losses and headed into the America East Conference championships as a No. 5 seed, the second-lowest in the tournament.
But a few weeks later, after defeating No. 4 Hartford and No. 1 New Hampshire, the Seawolves found themselves playing No. 6-ranked Vermont at home in the conference finals, with Corcho right in the middle of the action.
With Stony Brook up 1-0 in the 33rd minute, Corcho fielded a pass from freshman forward Rachel Florenz, crossed up her defender and ripped a shot into the back of the net for the decisive goal in the 2-1 victory. The goal, which sealed Stony Brook’s second-ever America East title, is arguably the highlight of Corcho’s college career.
“I don’t even remember it,” Corcho said while laughing. “We just got by everybody, this girl got in front of me, I took a touch in and just shot the ball as hard as I could and hoped it would get in.”
Corcho had trouble recalling the feeling of winning the championship at home into words.
“Oh my God, well it’s amazing that we could share this experience with everybody,” Corcho said. “When we won the quarterfinals and we heard Vermont had won, we knew we had a chance. It was just an amazing group effort, we just believed in everybody and believed it was going to work out for us.”
Sunday’s match was intensely physical, with both teams registering 19 combined fouls against just 16 combined shots. The wet pitch facilitated aggressive play from both teams, with possession routinely being won or lost in the middle of the field.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but I’m happy that we were able to gut out a win,” head coach Brendan Faherty said. “Everyone knows it’s the biggest game of the year, so people are going to bring it on both sides of the ball. I’m just so happy for our group that even though we didn’t play our best soccer we were able to overcome it and get the result.”
Despite finishing the regular season with an 8-10 overall record, Faherty said he felt the team’s tournament run was far from surprising.
“I like the way our team plays, I think we play really good soccer,” Faherty said. “I think at times this year, specifically against Albany and UVM, we couldn’t score goals, but we beat New Hampshire in the regular season so I’m not surprised.”
The Seawolves came out firing from the moment the match started, with freshman forward Alyssa Francese taking the team’s first shot on goal just 38 seconds after the opening whistle.
Francese broke through later on in the first half for the first goal of the match. The forward fielded the ball off a low cross from junior defender Kaitlin Loughren in the 18th minute, and curled a shot into the top-left corner of the goal to put the Seawolves up 1-0.
“I saw Kaitlin get the ball and beat her defender out wide,” Francese said. “She got a cross in and I just ran as hard as I could to the ball to get anything on it, trying to place it in the near post and I was able to finish it. It was an amazing feeling, it was really exciting especially for me scoring the goal, but it was just a great team effort.”
Stony Brook was in control of the lead for most of the match, but after surrendering a goal to Vermont senior midfielder Sarah Martin in the 62nd minute, a renewed Catamounts attack looked poised for an equalizer. Vermont put two shots on goal in the final two minutes, both of which were stopped by last-ditch efforts from Stony Brook freshman goalkeeper Sofia Manner.
“My adrenaline was so full,” Manner said. “I can’t even describe it in words. I had been injured for two years and now coming here and having a good season and winning it’s just the cherry on the top.”
Stony Brook’s first conference title since 2012 moves its overall record to 11-10 in preparation for the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. Brackets will be announced during the NCAA’s selection show on Monday, Nov. 6 at 4:30 p.m.
“I’m just really happy for our student athletes that they get to represent our school in the NCAA tournament,” Faherty said. “We’re just going to enjoy this today and we’ll tune in tomorrow and see who we draw.”