Award-winning film scores may abound, but none could be as dramatic as the sound of the final whistle on Nov. 11 at Wedgbury Stadium in Loves Park, Ill. The Richland women’s soccer team edged Delta College from Michigan 1-0 to win the national championship.
Richland took the lead with a rifle from about 30 yards out. A befitting lead for a special occasion.
“When I scored the goal in the final, I was kind of in shock,” forward, Eva Mulligan said.
Twenty-seven minutes into the first half, defender Miranda Ibarra, drove through the Delta midfield before laying it off for a teammate. Mulligan took a deft touch beyond her defender and rifled a bullet into the net.
“It was very exciting to get a goal that meant a lot for our team. It took a lot of stress off of us. When I realized I scored, it was kind of overwhelming.”
“We were trying to figure out why she [Mulligan] didn’t score more goals during the year. I think a lot of it is confidence. I think early on she didn’t want to take the set-pieces because she didn’t want to be the one who messed it up and same thing with finishing; I think she was more concerned about passing the ball,” said women’s soccer coach Scott Toups.
“As the season went on, she got more and more confident. You could see it in her play, she got better and better and all of a sudden, she started shooting and realized she could score goals. For her, I think it’s a confidence thing. She got more confident, she got better.”
Mulligan ended the season with nine goals and five assists. She wasn’t a frequent name on the score sheet at the beginning of the season, but as it wore on, her influence on the team grew. Five of her nine goals came in the last four games.
The road to the finals was relatively easy for Richland. They breezed past Holyoke in the quarterfinals with a 9-0 win.
The semifinal was more of the same. Inclement weather and a frozen field required the game to be moved indoors, but that didn’t deter the Thunderducks. They beat Brookdale 5-1.
The final was where Richland faced its biggest test yet and for the first 45 minutes, Richland looked to be the better side. They threatened, but goals weren’t forthcoming.
“It was just unfortunate we didn’t get a second goal. It went off the cross bar early on, we missed a couple that most of the time we would have scored. Their goal keeper made some really nice saves. Behind Dynastee [Cain], she was the best goalkeeper at the tournament,” said Toups.
An ankle injury sustained by Citlali Gonzalez forced a change in tactic midway through the first half.
“So, we ended up pulling her off and instead of replacing her with another defender off the bench, we moved one of our center midfielders, Cloe, to the back. And that changed the dynamic of the game. We lost control of the midfield, they gained more possession and gave us more trouble,” Toups said.
“I think part of it was they were stronger [than previous opponents] and part of it was, I think, we were just not there,” Ibarra said. “In our heads, some of us had already thought we won, so we were a little bit more relaxed when we shouldn’t have been.”
Ibarra was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the tournament for her display. She was part of a defense that kept a clean sheet in two out of the three games.
“I think I worked pretty hard this season and I was focused as much as I could’ve been in those three games,” Ibarra said.
Coaches from all the schools who participate in the nationals vote for the MVP. Ibarra was shocked that she garnered attention.
“I feel like in the back I didn’t get to play very much. So, I was kind of confused how my abilities were shown [and] how they could notice me. I was very surprised,” Ibarra said. “I think it’s one of the best seasons I’ve had throughout my soccer career. Had a couple losses, but overall, I like the girls, I like the coaching and some games were not that challenging, but I still had fun.”
Ibarra’s teammates, Mulligan and Cain took Offensive and Defensive MVP honors respectively.
The win was the Richland women’s soccer fourth national championship. The team had its last national championship win in 2014.
“We went [to the nationals] with that result in mind and that’s how we left, with what we wanted to accomplish,” Toups said.