There are 76 colleges that play women’s soccer in Division III for the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Of those 76 teams, only one will stand at the end of the season crowned National Champion. Just one.
Over the course of three or so months, teams will battle in leagues and divisions and regions just to have the chance to get to the national tournament. For some teams, they’ll get there several times and never win a title. And, as with many other sports, the best team doesn’t always win.
But other times, the best teams do win.
I’ve been lucky the last couple of years to have the chance to see quite a few of my niece’s soccer games. As a freshman last year, she earned All-Tournament honors when her team – SUNY Broome – took third place at nationals.
Mind you, this is a gal who has experienced a lot of success in soccer. She went to two state championship games in high school, winning one. Her first year of college soccer ended up in a regional “B” title (the region her school plays in gets two bids to nationals) and that third-place finish.
This year, the team was quite impressive. They were ranked second in the nation for the first five polling periods, and took over the No. 1 spot for the final five ranking periods. The only loss Broome suffered was against Division I Asa.
Not everything came easy. In a regional semifinal against a .500 team, Broome faced a scary position. No goals were scored in regulation as the opponent packed the box and it sure seemed like they wanted to take their chances with a penalty kick shootout. Broome scored in the second sudden-victory period to advance. In the final, the Hornets faced a big rival and trailed, 1-0, midway through the second.
As they say, though, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
A shot came in from the right of the goalie – it was soft and on the ground. The goalie went to one knee to scoop the roller and … it somehow got through her legs and trickled into the goal.
All I could think about was Vin Scully in 1986 … “The ball gets behind Buckner!”
A little bit later, a direct shot went to the goalie… she seemed to have it, but it bounced out of her arms and my niece was there to pop the ball into the goal for the winner.
Then nationals came around. Broome earned the top seed and faced No. 8 Anoka Ramsey. It was 3-0 in the blink of an eye and the Hornets rolled to a 6-0 win. Then they faced No. 4 Brookhaven and, again, scored early. That goal held up for a 1-0 victory.
The championship game started a little late, but the quick start theme continued as Broome went up 1-0 within the first five minutes and won, 3-0.
It was the third national championship in school history all under coach Bill Rich, who notched his 299th career victory with the title.
In the beginning of the year, my niece was one of hundreds of young ladies around the country who had a goal of winning a national championship. Many will dream about it. Few will ever achieve that level. This team was filled with a bunch of talented young women who had skills to play at levels above a junior college – and hopefully many will go on to do that. A strong defense, a crazy good offense (including the leading scorer in the country), and a solid bench gave this team an extremely well-rounded group.
Over the years, I’ve covered a lot of soccer when I was in newspapers. I was part of a group that had the chance to cover one other national championship (Oneonta State) for a local newspaper, and I also watched many NJCAA Division III men’s basketball championships over the years.
This one, I wasn’t reporting or anything like that. Over the past two years, I’ve had the chance to watch this team blossom and fulfill a dream that many won’t. The excitement on their faces as that final horn went off is something to always remember. Teams like this don’t come along every day, so it’s cool to know that my niece was part of something special.
Memories like this are ones you can never lose.