No. 1 Moment of 2012-13: Women's soccer plays for AMCC title

Women's soccer earned the No. 1 moment of 2012-13

Over the next 10 weeks, Pitt-Bradford athletics will bring you the Top 10 Moments of the 2012-13 school year.

Each week a new moment will debut, featuring insight from coaches, players, and Sports Information Director Scott Elliott. It all leads up to the No. 1 moment in Panther athletics, which will be revealed the week of Aug. 12.

In this space, over the course of the last 10 weeks, we've celebrated the top moments from 2012-13 school year. From head baseball coach Bret Butler winning his 300th game to the night the students stormed the court following a thrilling last-second win over Medaille, it was an entertaining year.

A lot has transpired in that time, but only one team and moment can earn the title of No. 1, and I think you'll find this group more than deserving of such distinction.

Over the last two years, no team has been more successful than women's soccer. Quietly, head coach Mike Idland has assembled a deep pool of talent, something the program was devoid of before he arrived on campus in 2008.

In 2011, the Panthers reeled off a school record 13 wins. They finished second in the AMCC, a program first, and hosted a conference tournament semifinal match, another first. But the season would end in disappointing fashion, a heartbreaking double-overtime defeat.

The core from that team returned for 2012 with a sense of purpose. However, there would be a transitional period. Idland was adding 15 new players to the mix, including a new infusion of talent that would far surpass anyone's expectations.

Pitt-Bradford opened the season with three straight victories, but a five-game stretch followed where the women recorded just one victory. The defense, which ranked as one of the top units in the country in 2012, was torched for 12 goals, including a season-worst five against Houghton.

The Panthers would regroup for the start of conference play. A 5-0 thrashing of La Roche in the AMCC opener righted the ship and was the first of six straight victories. The freshmen scoring duo of Maggie Boehler and Tess Follman emerged as one of the best in the league alongside senior Emily Mitchell. The trio combined for 28 of the team's 43 goals.

Their performances rivaled that of seniors Alisa Cornell, Linsey Stack and Alex Snellbaker on the defensive half of the field, which was bolstered by the addition of freshmen Sarah Turner and Jamie Christensen.

Juniors Andrea Gundlach and Vicky DeLong and sophomore Casey Schimpf patrolled the midfield, a menacing trio that played with an unrivaled toughness.

Despite a late-season loss to Penn State Behrend, the Panthers won their final two games to finish with a program-record eight AMCC victories. The team's season-ending 1-0 triumph over Medaille represented the 50th win of Idland's career and 13th of the season, matching its total from the previous season.

Pitt-Bradford earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament and hosted La Roche in the semifinals. Due to a rash of heavy rain and freezing precipitation, the game was moved to the high school.

For a quick history lesson, the Panthers were 0-7 all-time in the conference semifinals, including losses in each of the three previous years. The game against La Roche was to be played on Halloween, and the women would bury their demons once and for all.

Fighting through snow, rain and freezing temperatures, the two teams played to a draw after 110 minutes. Throughout the game, the Panthers were close on several chances, yet the Redhawks escaped disaster at each turn.

I remember the tension in the pressbox. With each passing moment and missed opportunity, uncertainty began to settle in. A loss would have been debilitating. This group was too special.

The game would be determined on penalty kicks; five attempts for each side. Both teams would convert their first attempts. La Roche's Bethanie Moreschi, the conference's leading goal scorer, was wide on La Roche's second try, and Taylor Perkins scored on the ensuing chance to push the Panthers ahead 2-1.

Then Cornell would stage the two biggest stops of her career, turning back consecutive tries by the Redhawks. But victory was far from certain; Gabrielle Neuhof missed on Pitt-Bradford's third attempt.

Stack or "Stackie," as she is known by her teammates, stepped in with a chance to send the Panthers to the AMCC championship match for the first time ever. I'll let the video tell the rest of the story. For the senior, it's a moment she'll never let go of, but one that did not come without nerves.

"Taking the final PK [penalty kick] to win the game against La Roche was one of the scariest moments of my career," Stack said. "I was always the player to take the PKs for the team, but during practice I was struggling with them.

"So in the game I was extremely nervous, but because I was always the player relied on for PKs, it felt incredible to be the one to end the game with the winning kick."

Idland, on the other hand, was confident his players would come through in the big moment.

"It's obviously a nail-biting occasion under normal circumstance-and I'm sure that it was for the fans and maybe even a few of our own players-but in this particular case, we so clearly had the upper hand in pretty much every aspect of the contest, that I figured that momentum would just carry through the PKs, which it did," Idland said.

And it's a moment the players will forever cherish according to Schimpf.

"Winning in penalty kicks is something I think myself and the team will never forget," Schimpf said.

For Stack, the win validated their work over the last four years.

"Playing for the AMCC title meant everything, especially to the seniors and me," Stack said. "We have worked so hard the past four years to build this program."

"We started at the bottom, and each year was a stepping stone to finally get to the championship."

On a frigid and windy Saturday in early November, the Panthers and more than 150 students, parents, and faculty and staff members ventured north to Erie, Pa., for the championship match against Penn State Behrend.

The Panthers would strike first, taking a 1-0 lead on Maggie Boehler's putback off a direct kick in the 20th minute. Behrend would answer moments later with a tally of its own. The score would remain tied for the duration of regulation. Pitt-Bradford adjusted at halftime and controlled the tempo in the second half but failed to convert.

The match extended to overtime and ultimately double overtime. It was fitting for any title bout only it would not end in the Panthers' favor. Behrend scored in transition midway through the second overtime, dashing the team's hope for the school's first conference championship.

It was a bittersweet moment for Cornell, who wore her Panther jersey for the final time that day.

"Well, to not just be in the tourney but make it to the championship was both a good and sad feeling," Cornell said. "It stinks to go all the way and not win, but it is amazing to know I was a part the first team to make it and that we've grown so much since my freshman year."

Gundlach will always "be proud to be a part of the first team to ever take Pitt-Bradford to the championships," and DeLong stressed the obstacles she overcame just to play in the final match.

"It meant the world to play in the championship game, that all the blood, sweat and tears were worth it to get there," DeLong said. "I played through a pulled hamstring in the Behrend game.

"I remember fighting through the pain to make every move/pass count."

For Follman and Turner, the experience of their first full season was rewarding.

"To play in the AMCC championship this previous season, as a freshman, was exciting but very intimidating,"  Follman said. "Throughout the season, the No. 1 thing I learned is hard work; if you work hard and take both practice and games seriously, your result will be success."

"To me playing in the AMCC championship was a huge privilege, especially as a freshman," Turner said. "It's a game that you work all season for, and I was lucky enough to share the experience with a great team."

Nearly every player shared their gratitude for the fans who did attend the final game, citing it as one more moment they'll take away from the entire journey.

For Idland, playing in the championship game signaled a changing of the guard in the conference.

"Looking back though, playing for the title for the first time meant a ton for our program and to me personally," Idland said. "It was a clear and measureable affirmation that we'd arrived in that top tier within our conference."

A program-record seven players were named to the all-conference team, and Boehler took home Newcomer of the Year and Co-Offensive Player of the Year awards. Cornell was named the Defensive Player of the Year, the first time the league ever awarded such an honor. Stack and Turner joined Boehler and Cornell on the first team, and Schimpf, Follman and Gundlach were second-team picks.

Entering the school year, I compiled a short list of teams who I thought were capable of winning a conference title. At the top of that list was women's soccer, and it nearly did.

It was a magical season for anyone involved. Ask the players returning and they have unfinished business. They are proud to be the first to team to play for a championship, but they want to be remembered for something greater. Their moment is yet to be written, and in less than six days they get another chance to cement their legacy.