With its three-game winning streak on the line, Columbia took the field yesterday against Lafayette in what turned out to be an absolute thriller. After 100 minutes of play and nine penalty strokes, it came down to a penalty stroke for the Leopards’ Kelsey Gula with the Lions’ Christie O’Hara standing in goal. One last time, it was O’Hara who came up big, making the save for the 2-1 win, the Light Blue’s fourth straight.
Columbia head coach Marybeth Freeman could not say enough about her squad’s focus and desire last night.
“Right now I think we’re in a very good place, after a two-hour event where they just competed together as a team and as a unit, just really cohesively,” Freeman said. “It was pretty clear that they believed in themselves, that they could do it. They showed the confidence in themselves that they can take it to the next level, that they can focus on the small details that it’s going to take teams to get from good to great.”
Two 35-minute halves were not enough to settle things between the Lions (8-4, 1-2 Ivy) and the Leopards, and two 15-minute sudden-death overtime periods could not determine a winner either. In the decisive penalty strokes, Desi Scherf, Bridget DeSandis, and Caitlin Mullins converted for the Lions while O’Hara had three clutch stops to send the Leopards home losers.
Freeman explained afterwards that the coaches have little impact on the outcome of penalty strokes, but that Columbia has been spending time in practice preparing for just such an occasion.
“It’s interesting with the strokes, there’s no tactics involved,” Freeman said. “There’s nothing [the coaches] can do. It’s in the players’ hands. We have been doing strokes lately as were getting into the latter part of the season, realizing it can be the difference between a win and a loss if it comes down to a stroke.”
Senior tri-captain Julia Garrison opened the scoring off a corner in the first minute of play. Caitlin Mullins, another senior tri-captain, sent the corner in for senior Hannah Smith to lay off to Garrison. Garrison’s hard-struck shot glanced off a defender on the way to the net, and the Light Blue took a 1-0 advantage into the break.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Lafayette scored its only goal of the contest less than four minutes into the second period. O’Hara ensured the Leopards would not find the back of the net again, making a big-time glove save with only four minutes left to play in regulation. O’Hara finished with 10 saves on the night, including six in overtime.
“Christie has such a knack. She has potential to be an elite level goalkeeper—just seeing where’s she’s come from, from preseason to where she is now. She’s making the routine saves, and she’s following up with the second and third saves very nicely,” Freeman said. “Of course we need to give a lot of the credit for the success in the backfield to the girls in front of her, but she’s really stepped up.”
With overtime came 30 minutes of extra play, testing the fitness levels from both teams. The Light Blue was up to the task, keeping the Leopards off the scoreboard. That’s no coincidence.
“I’ve been saying all year, that if we’re going to get beat, it’s because of our skill and not because of our fitness,” Freeman said. “I think, after 100 minutes, were we more fit? Yeah. Were we more mentally focused? I think that was a big part of it, too.”
Junior Carson Christus nearly preempted overtime with a shot inside the circle with less than two minutes left, but Lafayette goalkeeper Kelsey Andersen was there for the save to force the overtime and the penalty stroke dramatics to follow.
Columbia takes the field this Sunday against Penn in search of its fifth-straight win. The Lions will travel to Philadelphia for the contest, scheduled to start at 1 p.m. start.