Last-second goal ends Lions’ season

Junior midfielder Stacey Webber sprints with the ball during UNA’s second-round playoff game against the University of Tampa Nov. 15. The Spartans eliminated the Lions, scoring with two seconds left in the game.

The UNA soccer team’s season ended Nov. 15 with a 1-0 loss to Tampa in the second round of the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament.

With just two seconds left in the game, Tampa’s Cici Gonzalez found a goal to end the Lions’ season in heartbreaking fashion.

“When you get to the Sweet 16, anything can happen at that point,” said head coach Chris Walker. “We played well against Tampa, but we didn’t make the possession count and came up a little short at the end.”

The Lions, who finished 15-3-2 and 10-2 in the Gulf South Conference, had their chances in the game. UNA out-shot the Spartans 16-12 and had five shots on goal to Tampa’s three. However, the only shots that really count are the ones in the net. In that regard, Tampa was better.

“You play until the final whistle,” said junior and First Team All-GSC defender Susan Lang. “You play until the last second. Tampa did and got the goal. It’s just a hard one to swallow, losing with that little time left.”

Tampa contained senior forward Chloe Richards, who was only able to take four shots in the game. Richards is Division II’s leading scorer with 30 goals on the season.

“As you get into the postseason, it’s always going to be more difficult to score goals,” Richards said. “Defenses get better when you get further into the national tournament, and I knew I was going to be heavily marked. (Sunday), the goal was to get the ball to my feet, lay it off and go from there. We just couldn’t get enough opportunities on goal.”

Freshman Kylie Huey and junior Ele Costello took four shots each while freshman Margarida Sousa finished with two shots on goal.

The Lions did not end the way they wanted, but no one can deny the success UNA had this season.

The GSC coaches picked the Lions to finish third in the conference, but UNA defied expectations, winning both the regular season and the conference championship.

“The season can’t be judged on the last kick of the game, basically,” Walker said. “To win the regular season — our conference isn’t easy at all — then to win the conference the way we did was remarkable as well.

UNA held a remarkable 9-1-1 at home this season and hosted regionals, which was also a first for the soccer program.

“At the beginning of preseason, Chris (Walker) sat us down and asked everyone to come with some goals for this season,” said Huey, who earned GSC co-Freshman of the Year honors. “I am pretty positive we met a lot of those goals we picked, which says a lot. I could not write a better story for my freshman year. This season was one for the books.”

The end of the 2015 season also marks the end of collegiate careers for two Lions. Richards and fellow senior Melanie Leonida played their final match in a UNA kit Sunday afternoon, but both leave legacies of determination and leadership.

“I hope that I’ve instilled that hard work clearly achieves what you want to achieve,” Richards said. “I think that mindset has had an effect on the other players, and I hope that’s something that continues.”

Leonida’s only wish is her career left an impact on her teammates.

“I like to think my leadership skills helped the team this past season and in previous seasons,” she said. “I hope that I’ve shown the girls how to be a leader and the attributes you need on and off the field to be successful.”

As successful as the Lions were this season, Walker is optimistic that the future is just as bright for his team.

“We have a great junior class that will hopefully step into (Richards and Leonida’s) roles and do a good job there,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great class coming up. We lose two good players, but we’re excited about what the future holds.”