REICHENBACH, Germany – The Naples Wildcats have a shot at a fifth straight DODDS European Division II soccer title Thursday.
But they’ll have to get past a team with some serious momentum - and a bit of revenge in mind – to do it.
AFNORTH fell to Naples 2-1 in the last pool game Tuesday, before winning its next two, including a dramatic semifinal victory Wednesday.
AFNORTH 5, Alconbury 4: A thrilling roller coaster game ended with the Lions' hands in the air.
Grace Phillips scored on a header in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime and Hope Bonenclark deposited a loose ball into the net early in the extra session to give AFNORTH a comeback win.
With time about to expire on a 4-3 Alconbury victory, Lions sophomore Caitlyn Helwig launched a corner kick that found its way to Phillips, who redirected it into the net among a sea of teammates and opponents.
"I actually was worried about it," Helwig said. "It was kind of lofted.
"I'm just so happy she got her head on it."
The Lions carried that momentum into the extra session. Just two minutes in, AFNORTH's Camelia Brind'Amour-Riffou released a shot that eluded the Alconbury keeper but caromed off the post. Bonenclark, a fourth-year varsity player determined to leave school with a title, seized on the available ball and vulnerable net and firmly kicked home the go-ahead score, which held up for the rest of the five-minute overtime.
"It was so weird," Bonenclark said. "It didn't seem real."
Though that was the final act, the game's dramatic arc started far earlier.
AFNORTH scored the game's first two goals, Alconbury the next four. A controversial late call gave AFNORTH a penalty kick, which Helwig converted just moments before she found Phillips to tie the game.
All told, six of the eight goals in regulation came on penalty kicks or free kicks, including all four scored by Alconbury's Samaris Batley and two of Helwig's three.
The loss ends a spirited run for the Dragons, who won last year's Division III championship and have now proven themselves a worthy Division II adversary.
"I'm still proud of my girls," Dragons coach Armando Cordero said. "I cannot ask for a better game."
Naples 5, Vicenza 2: Naples has earned a shot at extending its Division II girls soccer dynasty to five years, routing their Italian rival Vicenza in a semifinal that may well prove to be the premier game of the D-II tournament.
A rematch of last year’s final, the game’s first half was punctuated by alternating bouts of nerves that often accompany a shot at the championship.
“We’ve had a rivalry for a while,” Naples sophomore Tyler Treat said. “There’s a bunch of pressure on both of us, and each team had the pressure to win.”
With mistakes and penalties but also a handful of heads-up plays from veterans on both sides of the ball, the first half ended in a 2-2 draw.
Vicenza senior Alex Frank, who scored both goals for the Cougars in the first half, was largely neutralized in the second as Naples offense pressed a relentless attack.
Treat, who’d scored in the first half on a cross from senior Isabella Lucy, pounded in two more in the second for a hat trick. Lucy scored on a penalty in the first and senior Amilia Espiet closed out the game with a short-distance strike in the closing minutes to give the Wildcats their final margin.
“Vicenza has been our competition for the past four years, probably more,” Lucy said. “We both felt like we had something to prove.”
“We consider this our championship game,” Tyler said. “Of course, tomorrow’s going to be even more intense, but we thought of it like a championship game.”