When junior defender Madison Sleiman single-handedly kept the Stony Brook women’s soccer team’s season alive with a goal in the final seconds that secured a 1-0 win over the UMass Lowell River Hawks, it took her almost a full minute to emerge from the dogpile of teammates that rushed the field to hug her.
Sleiman was lying on her stomach, giddy with emotion, before the ball even went in. A loss would have eliminated the Seawolves (6-8-2, 3-4-1 AE) from postseason contention.
“It’s such a good feeling,” Slemian said in an interview with The Statesman. “I can’t explain it.”
With 33 seconds on the clock, sophomore defender Emma Beattie placed the ball right in front of Sleiman 90 feet out from the goal. River Hawks goalkeeper Lisa Sjögren charged towards her, but Sleiman lobbed a shot through Sjögren’s legs and straight into the center of the net. It was the first goal of her career.
“I saw that their center back took a missed touch and I just went for it,” Sleiman said. “I won the ball and I was going through it, and I just knew I had to shoot. Luckily, I megged the goalie and I scored.”
Facing a River Hawks (7-6-2, 4-3-1 AE) team that had more substitutes and appeared to dwarf the Seawolves in height, Stony Brook played its most aggressive game of the season. Taking cues from graduate forward Alyssa Francese and graduate midfielder Chelsie DePonte, the Seawolves dove all over the field to intercept passes and shoved defenders aside to extend opportunities. They ended up spending 43 percent of their possession time in front of UMass Lowell’s net.
“We got ourselves in a good position to actually be aggressive, and that’s really the key to be successful,” head coach Tobias Bischof said. “We always try to be aggressive and try to be the team who puts a lot of pressure on other teams.”
Francese tied her career high by taking seven of the Seawolves’ 16 shots, but a mosh pit of River Hawks defenders swarmed her almost every time she touched the ball. Unable to find an open lane, only two of her shots were on goal and most had little power behind them. She took three shots in five minutes to close out the first half, and even her breakaway in the 32nd minute was thwarted when she was tripped from behind.
Sleiman subbed into the game in the 65th minute with the game still scoreless. She soon launched a pass to a wide-open DePonte directly in front of the net, but DePonte’s shot was wide left. Sleiman stole the ball in the 86th minute to create another scoring opportunity, this one for Francese, but the shot was wide left again.
Junior goalkeeper Emerson Richmond Burke made four saves to produce her fifth clean sheet of the season, including a free kick that she punched out of the air in the 44th minute.
With only one game remaining, eight America East teams still have a chance to make the six-team playoff field. Depending on the seed Stony Brook earns, today may have been the last home game of Francese and DePonte’s career — a fact they no doubt kept in mind while celebrating the team’s “Senior Day” on the field with their families after the game.
The Seawolves face the UMBC Retrieivers on Thursday with the chance to clinch a playoff spot.
“Now we’re on a high,” Sleiman said. “We got to win our next Thursday game and hopefully we make it into the playoffs. But for now we’re just going to celebrate this win and take it into next week.”