LEBANON — Taylor Hansen was in no mood to see her team’s season end Friday night. Instead, she and her Lewis and Clark Community College soccer teammates were in a national tourney mood.
The Trailblazers postseason caravan will continue, thanks to a convincing 5-1 victory over rival Southwestern Illinois College in the NJCAA Central District Tournament title game at McKendree University’s Leemon Field.
Next stop for the No. 6-ranked Trailblazers: Foley, Alabama and the NJCAA Division I National Championships.
L&C (18-0) will be one of eight district champions at the national tourney, set for Nov. 12-17. The other four teams in the 12-team field will be at-large selections. That could have meant a loss Friday might not have necessarily been the end of the L&C season. But Rooney didn’t feel like leaving his team’s future in the hands of a selection committee.
Hansen had assists on L&C’s first two goals and overall, played like a young woman possessed.
For Hansen, the end of the season will mean the end of her soccer-playing days. She’s suffered concussions on more than one occasion and has decided to heed doctors’ advice to give up the sport she’s loved since she was a pee wee.
“I’m going to go to SIUE and concentrate on getting ready for the next part of my life,” said Hansen, a former Edwardsville High standout. “No way did I want it to end here.
“This team has accomplished a lot this season, but we wanted to go back to nationals.”
They will, thanks an opportunistic offense that scored three goals from restarts and a defense that pitched a shutout until a controversial late goal by SWIC.
L&C outshot the Blue Storm 16-8. Each team had six corner kicks.
“I thought that we played them really well,” L&C coach Tim Rooney said. “We know them, pretty well by now and they know us. When we went up 3-0, I felt better. But against somebody like (SWIC), you know it’s going to be all-out from them the whole game.”
The Trailblazers grabbed an early lead when Megan Pierce scored on a header off a free kick from Hansen in the third minute.
The restart came from the left side of the field, about 30 yards out. Pierce leaped high and headed the ball inside the left post from about 12 yards away, past the outstretched arms of SWIC goalie Claire Hoover.
The Blue Storm mounted pressure, especially from Jalyn Richardson, a freshman from Collinsville, who was making life difficult for the L&C defense.
Then Rooney put fullback Sydney Schmidt on Richardson. The moved helped.
“I have marked her a few times, said Schmidt, who played against Richardson in high school when Schmidt was at Alton High and Richardson at Collinsville. “And so has Tag (Hansen). She’s really dangerous and has some really good footwork.”
L&C made it 2-0 on a nearly identical restart, except from the right side. Hansen, kick from about 30 yards out was headed in by Audrey Andrzejewski in the 37th minute.
“I didn’t get to play (at nationals) last year,” Andrzejewski said. “I’m really happy we’re getting a chance to go back.”
Andrzejewski, LC’s leading scorer last season, tore an ACL in last year’s district game against St. Charles and spent much of this season rehabbing from the surgery.
And even with his team leading 2-0, Rooney was still anxious. That is until Cassie Hall made it 3-0.
Hall, who has just subbed into the game seconds earlier, slipped the ball past Hoover inside the left post from about 10 yards after receiving an assist from Senate Letsie.
“It felt good,” said Hall, a freshman from Civic Memorial High. “I’m glad I got subbed in and was in the right place, right time.”
In the second half, Boitumelo Rabale made it 4-0 on a free kick goal from about 25 yards in the 65th minute. Her blast sailed past Hoover into the upper right-hand corner.
SWIC scored its goal in the 667th minute when Chloe Scott toe-poked the ball away from L&C goalie Megan King, who argued she had possession. But referees conferred and allowed the goal.
“They said (King) didn’t have control of the ball,” Rooney said. “It was close.”
Letsie capped the scoring in the 88th minute off an assist from Andrzejewski.
SWIC, which made it to the district as the Region 24 runner-up, dropped to 15-6-1. Three of those losses were to L&C. Just last Sunday, the Trailblazers beat the Blue Storm 1-0 in the Region 24 championship game. Early in the season, L&C blanked SWIC 5-0 in Belleville.
“I’m not sure if SWIC can get an at-large bid with six losses,” Rooney said. “But three of them were to us and another was to another nationally ranked team (Iowa Western), so it’s possible.
“But I know I’ve seen enough of them for a while.”
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