Owls’ women soccer readies for NCAA tourney

WESTFIELD – Westfield State University women’s soccer is set to kick off in the 2021 NCAA Division III women’s soccer tournament Saturday as the Owls travel to national #1 The College of New Jersey for an 11 a.m. kickoff at Lions Field in Ewing, N.J.
TCNJ has set up a tournament website to keep fans apprised of tickets ($6 general admission, available only at the gate), live stream and live stats and results for the games.
Westfield is in the tournament for the eighth time, all under current head coach Todd Ditmar, and are making their eighth appearance in the last 12 years. The Owls last played in the NCAA’s in 2019, when they fell to William Smith College, 4-1 in the first round. The Owls best performance in the NCAA’s came in 2011, when they advanced to the second round, defeating Stevens Institute in a penalty kick shootout to advance after a 1-1 draw, before falling to Williams College 2-1 in the second round.
Westfield received an automatic bid to the tournament by winning the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title with a 1-0 win over Worcester State in the championship game.
The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) has long been one of the powers in NCAA Division III soccer. The Lions have won three national titles (1993, 1994, and 2000) all under current head coach Joe Russo, and have made four more appearances in the championship game. The Lions are in the tournament for the sixth straight year and 29th time overall. They are the second winningest program in the history of the D3 tournament with more than 60 wins in tournament play.
The Lions earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference title, winning a penalty kick shootout, 5-4, after a 0-0 draw with Rowan University in the conference championship match.
The two schools have never met, but they do have two common opponents this season. Westfield posted a 3-0 win over Kean (NJ) University in the season opener, and played to a 0-0 draw with Stockton (NJ) University.
The Lions were a 1-0 winner over Kean, and posted a pair of wins over Stockton, 5-0 in the regular season and 2-0 in the NJAC Tournament.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Ditmar. “I think it’s good that we played two teams from the same conference (as TCNJ) earlier in the year, so we have an idea of what to expect with the level of competition.”
The Lions rank second in the country in goals-against average, at 0.217 per game.
This sets up an interesting matchup with the Owls who feature the leading goals scorer in the nation in Delaney Parker (Orange, Mass.), who has tallied a school-record 31 times this season, while playing with senior Jenn Rennich (Bedford, Mass.), who has 14 goals of her own to go along with 18 assists, giving the Owls a dynamic tandem up front.
The Owls lead the country in total assists (67) and total points (223).
Parker and Rennich get scoring support from first-year back Jaida Cochran (Middleboro) and senior midfielder Madi Dufries, who have each tallied five goals. Midfielder Jenna Hurlburt (Kingston) (five assists) and Bella Parrotte (East Greenbush, N.Y.) (3-9-12) also play key roles in the Owls attack.
Defensively, Westfield is anchored by junior goalkeeper Lauryn Davis (Templeton), who has a 1.10 goals-against average and has been a part of nine Owls shutouts this season.
Senior back Morgan Remington (Enfield) is a key component of an Owls back line that has been able to morph to meet the challenges posed by their opponents’ attacking styles.
“We have some great players on our team, and that will give us the ability to play at this level,” said Ditmar.
TCNJ has outscored their opponents 52-4. The Lions have a trio of players with six goals this season and seven who have scored four or more.
Junior forward Emma Pascarella leads the TCNJ with six goals and four assists, with sophomore Sophie Gianna and junior Gianna Coppola, the NJAC Midfielder of the Year, each netting six goals.
A pair of juniors Ameila Curtis and Gianna Minerva key the Lions playmaking with five assists each.
Senior goalkeeper Alexandra Panasuk has a 0.24 GAA and an .846 save percentage while backstopping TCNJ’s stalwart defense.
The other two teams in the pod are familiar faces, as #11 Messiah faces Virginia Wesleyan University. The winner that match meets the winner of the Owls-Lions matchup on Sunday at 1:00 pm for the right to compete in the Sweet 16.
Westfield State faced Messiah in the opening round of the 2017 NCAA tournament, where the Falcons topped the Owls 4-0. Westfield faced Virginia Wesleyan in a season opening tournament in 2019 and fell 4-0.
“We can draw on our past NCAA experiences playing some of the best teams in the country,” said Ditmar, roll-calling Rochester, Messiah, Williams and William Smith, some of the past NCAA opponents for the Owls. “It’s another opportunity to play some of the best teams, and our kids have worked all year to get to this point. Our goal was to win the conference and have the chance to compete at the best level, and that’s where we are now.” – Courtesy of Westfield State University Sports

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