Siena women’s soccer wins MAAC championship over Monmouth on PKs in thriller

Siena women’s soccer team celebrate their MAAC championship game win over Monmouth on Friday at Hickey Field in Loudonville.

Siena women’s soccer team celebrate their MAAC championship game win over Monmouth on Friday at Hickey Field in Loudonville.

LOUDONVILLE — It took a second for reality to gleefully set in.

Emily McNelis struck her penalty kick to perfection — she sent Monmouth goalkeeper Rebecca Winslow lunging to cover the left goalpost, and McNelis placed the ball sweetly in the upper right corner — to secure the Saints’ first MAAC women’s soccer championship since 2015, but the reaction from both the Siena junior midfielder and her teammates was a second delayed.

“I kind of was in shock, I guess,” McNelis said after the Saints won 4-2 on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw Friday at Hickey Field. “No one really stormed the field at first. I was kind of looking around, and then everyone realized that we’d actually won it — and then everyone was crazy.”

After the brief hesitation, the wild celebration ensued for a Siena team that was picked to finish eighth by the league’s coaches during the preseason and has gone on to go unbeaten in eight games and end Monmouth’s four-year run atop the MAAC.

McNelis had a feeling that Friday was going to turn out the way it did.

“I had this idea that we were going to go into PKs last night,” McNelis said. “I was so ready to go. I was so excited. I knew I was going to score.”

Siena (No. 1 seed, 6-0-2 overall) absorbed plenty of pressure from Monmouth throughout 90 minutes of regulation and a pair of 10-minute overtime periods, but the defense never cracked.

The Saints largely limited Monmouth (No. 3, 5-1-3) to shots from long distance or poor angles, and when the Hawks did get a clean look, Leslie Adams was there to vacuum the ball up.

Adams, Siena’s junior goalkeeper, was a brick wall on a grey, soggy day. She stopped a career-high 12 shots during regulation and overtime — eclipsing her previous career-best of 11, set 13 days earlier in a 1-1 draw with Monmouth — then turned away attempts from Maddison Perna and Sarina Jones in the first two rounds of penalty kicks to give the Saints an edge they’d never give up.

“Those saves were crazy,” Adams said. “I can’t believe I did that. I just needed one, but I’m grateful I got two.”

“That first save was huge,” she added. “Oh my gosh, that was great. The second one, that was even better. I couldn’t have asked for more than that.”

While Adams provided the pair of saves that kickstarted Siena’s momentum, the Saints’ penalty takers executed with nerves of steel.

One by one, they stepped to the penalty spot and coolly beat Winslow. First it was Rachel Sullivan, then Deanna Lomino, then Darby D’Angelo, before McNelis stood over the ball with a chance to win the league title.

She said she hadn’t taken a penalty kick in a game since high school, but McNelis stepped up to the spot brimming with confidence.

“Yesterday at practice, we were practicing [PKs], and I always hit it to the right side,” said McNelis, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. “Last night, I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got this feeling that we’re going to head to PKs, and you’ve got to score it.’”

Senior striker and Schoharie High School graduate Carrie Krohn was waiting out the penalty kicks, wondering if she — sixth in head coach Steve Karbowski’s lineup — would be needed if things were still tied after five rounds and moved into sudden victory.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Krohn said. “We’ve worked really hard. We absolutely deserve this. Luck was one our side today, especially with the PKs. Leslie Adams came up big, everyone that took their PK really made it count.”

Siena made its opportunities count at the end in a match where the statistics were lopsided in Monmouth’s favor.

The Hawks had a 25-6 advantage in total shots and a 12-1 edge in shots on goal, as well as a 17-2 advantage in corner kicks.

But, the Siena defense largely bottled up Monmouth’s dangerous forward duo of Lauren Karabin and Jesi Rossman, limiting the Hawks to shots from outside the box with the central defensive pairing of Lomino and Brianna Montinard leading the charge.

“We blocked some shots, we pressured some shots,” Karbowski said. “Nothing real clean. I thought we did a great job defensively not reaching in, lunging in. Just making it tough on them.”

“It wasn’t a surprise to me to make it through all 110 minutes [without allowing a goal],” Krohn said.

Adams was still tested plenty, and made a couple of acrobatic lunges to tip the ball over the crossbar in the second half, but the goalie said the activity kept her astute heading into penalty kicks.

“I think it helped me stay mentally into the game,” Adam said. “I was sharp.”

Siena will learn Monday its draw for the 48-team NCAA tournament. The Saints will play their first-round game either April 27 or 28 in a tournament that will take place entirely in and around Cary, North Carolina.

For the moment, they’re happy to enjoy the ride.

“From day one in the fall, we’ve been training so, so much for this day,” Adams said. “Now, it’s finally here. I couldn’t even believe today was even here, because we were thinking about it in the fall. It was great to see it come full circle.”

Halftime score: Tied 0-0. End of regulation: Tied 0-0. Monmouth scoring: None. Siena scoring: None. Penalty kicks: Monmouth, Perna, NG; Jones, NG; Leffler, G; Marino, G. Siena, Sullivan, G; Lomino; G, D’Angelo; G, McNelis, G. Goalies: Monmouth, Winslow, 1 save. Siena, Adams, 12 saves.

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