Women’s soccer falls to JHU 2-1 in NCAA DIII championship game, concluding historic season


Courtesy of CWRU Athletics

Team captains Lexi Gomez, Anika Washburn, Merry Meyer and Elizabeth White (left to right) hold up their NCAA National Runner-up trophy after a season full of new records and accomplishments.

Puneet Bansal, Sports Editor

Last Sunday Dec. 4, the Case Western Reserve University women’s soccer team was one win away from their first NCAA Division III title. In their way stood the formidable second-ranked Johns Hopkins University (JHU), also seeking their first championship in program history. Unfortunately for the fourth-ranked Spartans, the Blue Jays tenacity and offensive pressure proved too much for CWRU. The Spartans fell 2-1, claiming the runner’s up trophy to cap off the most legendary season in CWRU women’s soccer history.

When CWRU arrived in Salem, Virginia on Friday Dec. 2, they first had to go through Virginia Wesleyan University in the semifinals.

The Spartans made quick work of their opponents and scored in the 17th minute of the first half. Graduate student forward Camryn Hartman received a pass at the top of the box to the left. After some quick dribbling past her defender, Hartman lasered in an angled shot to the top right corner of the net for the 1-0 lead. With her 14th goal, she became the second highest single-season scorer in program history. 

“I was looking to go one-on-one for the goal and she was giving me my left foot, which is the foot I like to use,” said Hartman of her goal in an interview with the NCAA DIII press. “I saw a little bit of an angle so I just took the chance and it went in.”

In the final four minutes of the first half, fourth-year midfielder Anika Washburn made her presence known. After receiving a pass well above the box, she juked past her defender and sent a rather relaxed, bouncing shot just past the goalie’s fingertips to secure the 2-0 lead. 

Fourth-year forward Helina VanBibber finished off the Spartans’ scoring in the 63rd minute. She got a cross in the middle of the 18-yard box, dribbled around her defender and lasered it into the upper right corner for the 3-0 advantage and for her 10th goal of the season.

Instrumental in the 3-0 win as always was third-year goalkeeper Maggie Storti, who forced her eighth shutout of the season after saving four shots from the Marlins. Fourth-years Lexi Gomez, Elizabeth White, Merry Meyer and second-year Katie Rishel anchored the Spartan defense for almost the entire game and allowed only a dismal 10 shots, a testament to CWRU’s stringent back line.

The Spartans were in control of the possession for much of the game, outshooting the Marlins 22-10. Hartman and VanBibber each recorded five shots. With the three goals, CWRU’s goal total increased to 22 over the five NCAA postseason games thus far, setting a new record for most goals scored by a team in the tournament in NCAA DIII history. The previous mark was 21.

“I think it’s really a testament to the culture of the team,” responded Washburn when asked about the explosive offensive growth the Spartans have seen over her five-year career. “It started with [recent] alumni and each year we brought in a great group of girls who’ve been able to raise the level each year. We’ve gone through a couple coaches, we’ve got different aspects of soccer all together and we’ve been able to put the pieces together finally and come away with more goals and just better soccer overall.”

This season, the NCAA DIII implemented a new tournament schedule where the two teams get one day of rest in between the semifinals match and the championship game. 

“The last few weekends it’s been back-to-back so a day off is nice because you can recover and prepare a little more for Johns Hopkins University,” said head coach Abby Richter. “Either way we’re going to be ready to play. It’s the national championship so we’ll be ready to go.”

On Dec. 4, the Spartans battled through the most intense 90 minutes of soccer this season. JHU and CWRU went back and forth, and it seemed like neither team had full control. In the end, however, the Blue Jays capitalized on what few mistakes the Spartans made.

JHU got on the board quickly in the 14th minute. Blue Jays’ Breukelen Woodard took advantage of a rare Spartan defensive mishap and managed to get set up in a one-on-one situation against CWRU goalkeeper Storti. With Storti unable to make the save, JHU took the 1-0 lead.

Against one of the most difficult defenses they’ve seen this year, the Spartans kept attacking and struck back in the 34th minute. Fourth-year midfielder Aniya Hartzler’s initial shot was deflected but she collected the rebound and sent in a successful second attempt to tie it 1-1. They also extended their tournament record of goals made to 23. 

At the 50th minute, JHU’s Katie Sullivan lasered in a shot past Storti for the 2-1 lead. Despite the Spartans’s best attempts, including multiple saves from Storti to keep the game within reach, CWRU was unable to tie it again. The buzzer sounded and JHU was crowned with their first NCAA DIII Women’s Soccer Championship in history, finishing with a 22-1-2 record.

JHU outshot CWRU 21-12, including a 10-5 advantage in shots on goal. The Blue Jays also held the advantage in corner kicks with 5-3.

“Obviously we’re on the wrong end of this, but I’m so proud of the team and the effort they gave today and all season,” said Coach Richter after the game. “We wish it turned out a different way, but congrats to JHU. They’re a really good team and it’s just unfortunate for us today.”

“This has obviously been what we’ve been preparing for all season,” added Gomez. “We’ve tried to not focus too hard on results and major goals like the national championship but this has always been where we wanted to be… Last two days [we knew we’d be] facing a good opponent and doing our best to prepare. I think we did that, but… that’s what we wanted to do, is play against the best of the best and that’s what we did.”

Gomez, Hartman, Washburn and first-year midfielder Jamie Goldfarb were named to the All-Tournament team following the game.

With this being their only loss, the Spartans finished the season with a 20-1-1 record overall. The national second place finish matches the best finish by any CWRU team in university history and is the best finish in university history for any CWRU women’s team. The Spartans also set the program record for wins in a season (20) and the longest winning streak (13). Additional achievements include a 6-0-1 record in the UAA play as well as their first conference championship in history.

This was the final match for the 2022 class, which consisted of Gomez, Hartman, Hartzler, Washburn, Meyer, VanBibber, White, forward Samantha Cramin, defender Laura Gorjanc, goalie Anna Gurian and forward Maia Sethi. Together, they represent the most successful graduating class in women’s soccer history with a four-year record of 50-8-4.

“This senior class has really turned this program around from going no wins in the UAA for our super seniors in our first year to winning the UAA for the first time in program history and making the deepest run into the NCAA tournament,” reflected Gomez. “They’re just some of the strongest people I’ve ever met and it’s been such a privilege to play alongside them, learn from them and contribute to this team any way I can. I couldn’t be more proud, more honored to be here today on the field with them.”

Prior to the beginning of the final four matches, White was named the recipient of the Elite 90 Award, which recognizes the athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average participating at the site of the finals.

White was named to the College Sports Communicators Academic All-America First Team, Washburn was named to the Second Team and VanBibber was selected to the Third Team. It was the fourth Academic All-America honor for Washburn, the first CWRU athlete to be named to four teams in one sport in university history. It was the second honor for White and the first for VanBibber. 

Of the 79 CWRU athletes that were inducted to the 2022 Van Horn Society, which honors athletes with a GPA of 3.8 or higher with a junior or senior academic status, eight represented women’s soccer: Gomez, Gurian, Sethi, VanBibber, Washburn, White, third-year defender Sumera Sandhir and student coach Grace Bratter.

Hartman and Gomez were named the UAA Offensive and Defensive Athletes of the Week, respectively. Gomez was named the Spartan Club Athlete of the Week for her defensive performance through the championship weekend.