By Rob Daniels
UNCGSpartans.com staff writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – They went undefeated from Labor Day through Veterans Day, and in the end, they offered thanksgiving.
“You know, I can’t say I have a favorite moment,” senior midfielder Jenn Partenheimer said after the UNCG women’s soccer team’s remarkable season came to a close Friday night. “Every moment with these girls is great.”
The 2-1 loss to South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament offered the last of those moments in a season that finished at 19-2-1. The results allowed the senior class of Partenheimer, Katie Evans and Jen Rincon to become the most successful, numerically speaking, in the program’s 23-year history: 64 wins, four Southern Conference regular-season titles and two NCAA appearances.
In addition to winning their own league, the Spartans earned a win or a tie against teams from every time zone in the contiguous 48 United States. Their victims included opposition from the ACC, Pac-10, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Conference USA and CAA.
They entered the NCAAs with the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 16 games. UNCG earned a national ranking – 10th in the final regular-season poll – for the first time in a dozen years.
So it felt odd that an own goal played a role in the Spartans’ exit from the field of 64. They couldn’t deny that strange twist. But they made the Gamecocks sweat on a night when the temperature dipped below 40 degrees.
Kristen Schmidbauer’s goal with 15:17 left made it 2-1, and a frenzied final minute sent goalkeeper Kelsey Kearney to the attacking third of the field, where she made a throw-in – and a pretty decent one at that – to initiate the last attempt at a shot. Players from both teams went to the ground at the final horn. Some were dejected. Others were relieved. All were spent.
“I’m extremely proud of the kids for their effort and their fight and their battle,” coach Eddie Radwanski said. “What more could you ask? We were a bit unlucky today to concede an own goal, and it was poor of us to give up a goal early in the second half.
“Our team didn’t give up, and we had chances. I’m sure for people who watched the game, we were the better team, but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to score goals. I can’t say enough about our kids. Our seniors played their hearts out.”
UNCG allowed more than one goal for the first time since a 5-2 win at Chattanooga on Sept. 24. It allowed an own goal for the first time since the season-opener of 2008. It scored for the 17th straight game since a 2-0 defeat at Cal State-Fullerton on Sept. 5.
Along the way, there were trips to South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, California and Virginia. They were left with one wish.
“One more minute,” Partenheimer said. “Maybe.”
Radwanski wasn’t in the mood to talk about 2011 on Friday night, but the topic should eventually be a pleasant one. The Spartans expect to return nine starters to the team that knocked over nearly everything in its path. The eclectic group should include players from Woodbine, Md., to Woodinville, Wash., and several locales in between, and it figures to have at least one carryover attribute.
“Teamwork,” Partenheimer said. “We’re a family. We do everything together. We win together. We lose together.”