:XU Women’s Soccer appears in BIG EAST Championship, hosts NCAA First Round
By Pat Gainor, Staff Writer
Women’s soccer completed their conference tournament schedule over the week, with the women earning a Big East Championship berth for the second straight year and the men’s side capturing the first Big East Championship title in program history.
Both squads, who have been excellent on the pitch late in the season, navigated their way into Boyds for their respective tournament championships.
The Xavier women’s team, who won a share of the Big East title for the second time in three years thanks to a 6-0-4 record, was selected as the #1 seed in the tournament via tiebreaker.
In the semifinals, the Musketeers used a Sonia Vargas strike and Shelby Sallee header to propel them back to the championship game as they down the Friars 2-0. They eventualy fell to Georgetown in the Big East Championship and Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
For the men’s team, Xavier was selected as the #2 seed in the Big East Tournament and hosted the Akron Zips, who despite being ranked #21 nationally came in as the #7 seed due to a late-season skid.
With the top goal scorer in the country opposing them, Xavier had their work cut out. But just like their meeting in the regular season, Xavier’s world-class defense would hold strong, keeping the Zips off the board for the second straight meeting.
Both teams went toe to toe all game, going nearly even in shots. Xavier’s counterattack finally brpke through early in the second half, as a beautiful cross from back midfield Ernest Mensah connected with freshman Grayson Elmquist to score the opening goal.
Following a second yellow card disqualifying the Zips’ Ashton Kamden, Xavier was able to put the game on ice as they won their first playoff game under John Higgins.
The following week, Xavier made the trek to Boyds to take on the Providence Friars for the first time this season. The Friars dominated shooting all game, finishing the game with 19 total, but a Herculean effort by first-year keeper Jonny Mennell kept them off the board. A loose ball in front of the goal knocked in by striker Taylor Rhinehart gave Xavier the lead and a dramatic penalty kick save by Mennell in the final ten minutes sealed the win for the Musketeers.
For the championship, Xavier squared out with the Georgetown Hoyas, both the favorites in the Big East and the #3 ranked team in the nation.
With two elite defenses going at each other, the game went to overtime with no score. The Hoyas threatened a few times, but excellent defense by Makel Rasheed and a phenomenal double-save by Mennell kept the sheets clean and sent the game to penalty kicks.
A save in the first round gave Xavier the early edge, but Georgetown drew even in the 4th round thanks to a save by Ryan Schewe. But in the 6th round of PKs, Lotem Ben Dov would easily knock his shot through in the top of the row and Mennell made an incredible save to end the shootout and win Xavier their first Big East title in program history.
“I really can’t describe it right now,” said Jonny Mennell after the victory, “Nobody picked us to be here and we showed them that we don’t give up… it’s just a culmination of all the work we did this entire season.”
Mennell, who was not named to any of the three All Big-East Team this year, was unanimously named Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Over the three tournament games, he recorded a total of 16 saves and was the only keeper in the tournament to not allow a goal.
Striker Taylor Rhinehart (pictured left) was named Most Outstanding Offensive Player and defenders Makel Rasheed and Dylan Kropp were named to the All-Tournament Team as well.
Xavier was projected to finish in 9th place in the Big East by the preseason poll and to be one of four to miss the tournament entirely.
Now, they will host the Kentucky Wildcats at Corcoran Field this Thursday in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2014. Kickoff is set for 7 PM.