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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Women’s soccer end season in MIAC quarterfinals

Gaby Valle ’25 controls a contested ball. Photo courtesy of Macalester Athletics.

At the beginning of the season, the women’s soccer Scots got off to a blistering start, going 5-1 to launch their conference campaign and playing themselves into the championship mix. From there, they took two tough away losses to Carleton College and St. Catherine University, the two top teams in the MIAC. With those losses effectively putting them out of the title race, the focus instead turned to playoff seeding. Staying the course after two straight losses defined this part of the season. The Scots didn’t fall apart, and down the stretch, they did all they needed to hold onto third place, ending the regular season on a 1-1 draw away to Augsburg University that would see them rematch the Auggies in the playoff opener.

“We came in with high aspirations and belief in ourselves,” Head Coach Madeline Buckley wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “We took that belief and kept our feet on the ground and waded through the mid-season storm. I am so proud of how we handled the turbulence like a veteran group would. Being able to stay in the present and focus on the next task at hand is a difficult thing to do but I am proud of our team’s ability to just focus on the here and now — be present. Our upperclassmen set a strong standard of being willing to work through the hard moments to reach the glory moments. Watching your players jump up and down in pure joy after a big goal is scored or a big save is made, is one of my favorite things and we had many, many of those joyous moments over the course of the season.”

At home for a frigid playoff encounter with an opponent they had played just two days earlier, the Scots looked to book their trip to the semifinals for a rematch against St. Kate’s, though things wouldn’t go as they had hoped. In the 10th minute, Augburg’s Phoebe Alva Rosa broke out down the left side on a counterattack and passed it to the Auggie’s best player, senior Jayla Ponce, who took the chance and scored the opener to put the Scots 1-0 down. 

Before the Scots could react, an Augsburg player went over in the box on their next trip down the field, and a penalty was awarded. Goalkeeper Abigail Heuga ’27 stood in, as Ponce stepped up to take. Heuga guessed right, and got a hand to the ball, but could only push it into the side netting as the Auggies jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead. 

Having seized an early advantage, Augsburg looked to stifle the rest of the game. The Auggies played defensive, foul-happy soccer, and the crowd became restless and frustrated. The Scots had their looks in the first half, but the line-breaking passes and elegantly strung together plays that had sent them to third in the MIAC wouldn’t come. 

Gaby Valle ’25 had the Scots’ lone shot on goal in the first half, and her work rate in the midfield was instrumental in the Scots’ continued ability to send the ball upfield and look to put pressure on the Auggies’ final third. The Scots’ front line of Julia Hanson ’27, Adi Nhouyvanisvong ’27 and Mia Brisbin ’24 were doing all they could to find the combination that would unlock the opposing defense, but found themselves stopped by physical and at-times uncouth play, including a sloppy challenge against Brisbin that attracted a yellow card near the end of the first half. The fouls led to set-piece opportunities for the Scots and they regained some control over the match, but couldn’t produce a goal.

The second half was a more balanced affair, and the Scots battled, though neither team was able to gain purchase. As time dwindled, so did the Scots’ chances. In the 63rd minute, with the Scots going all in for a goal, the Auggies were able to get a third past Heuga, effectively putting away the Scots’ chances of a comeback.

“Towards the end of the first half, our team started to pick up some momentum and we wanted to build on it,” Buckley wrote. “Going into the halftime talk, we told them to just go for it and hold nothing back. We needed to stay patient and keep possessing the ball, finish our chances and ultimately just give it everything we had, and I felt in the second half we did that but fell short in the end.”

Despite the odds stacked against them, the Scots kept fighting with their heads held high. They didn’t quit, and continued pressing forward to salvage what they could out of the increasingly dire situation. There was still the rest of a game — and a season — to play out, and they did so with the utmost character. In the final 20 minutes, they finally started to play the flowing team game that had gotten them this far, and enjoyed a great run of play for the first time in the match. Perhaps gaining the upper hand as fatigue or complacency set in for the Auggies, the Scots ran rampant. 

Timna Nevo ’27 got the ball near the halfway line and sidestepped a defender, then found herself with acres of space down the right side. Bursting down the wing, she served a ball into the box. It got past the Augsburg defender and went straight to the feet of Livi Novello ’24, a team captain in her final game. Novello squared the ball up and fired it into the roof of the net with a first-time effort in the 81st minute. In her final 10 minutes on the field as a Scot, the senior defender had scored the first goal in her collegiate career. Novello has anchored the Scots’ defense throughout the season and her entire time at Macalester; she’s built up a rich career, starting in every game she’s appeared in. With her strike at the end of the playoff game, Novello’s career would end with 3,935 minutes, 47 caps and, at the very end, a goal. 

Novello’s teammates jubilantly mobbed her where she stood. The crowd joined in, roaring back to raucous life after a frustrating contest. From the reaction to the goal, you would never guess that the Scots still found themselves down 3-1. Amidst the bitter defeat, Novello’s goal provided a moment of triumph. The scoreline deems that goal a consolation goal, something usually considered insignificant. Indeed, it didn’t end up affecting the final result. However, from the outpouring of joy from those on the field and in the stands, that goal meant more than simple consolation. A senior and team captain, a defensive rock whose role meant she hadn’t yet had the opportunity to get a goal, who finally scored her first in the final minutes: though certainly not exactly as they hoped or expected, this would be a storied sort of ending for the Scots.

“As soon as we shifted Senior Captain Livi Novello up to center forward from center back, the tide shifted,” Buckley wrote. “We knew she had the determination of a graduating senior and her strong will to win drove her forward literally and figuratively. Putting her up top and getting that kind of immediate production was pretty spectacular. First year defender Timna Nevo, affectionately known by her teammates as ‘fireball,’ was determined to get Livi that ball in the box, and Livi sent it home in storybook fashion. To score your first collegiate goal in your last collegiate game, it’s pretty fitting. Losing the game was a heartbreaking way to end the season, but seeing Livi score her first goal in the final minutes of her great career took some of the sting out of the loss and is a moment I will always treasure as a coach.”

Buoyed significantly by the goal, the Scots searched for a second strike that would make things interesting, and nearly found it after Julia Hanson ’27 was sprung in on goal, but she narrowly missed the frame, leaving the deficit at 2. With virtually every player having a green light to press forward, risks of counterattack goals for Augsburg were high, and Nevo, Hazel Waters ’26 and Becky Mulcahy ’26 put in some of their best moments of the match, repeatedly racing back on defense to thwart Augsburg attacks. In the 87th minute, Heuga came forward out of net to join the crowd for a corner, and rose highest to get her head on the ball, but couldn’t direct it on frame with pace, and the ensuing scramble for the ball resulted in a goal kick. After the Scot’s last ditch stretch of positive football, time wound down and ran out. The game and season ended with a 3-1 loss. Along with Novello, the match also marked the final games as Scots for Ella Thomsen ’24 and Mia Brisbin, each with 54 caps and 8 goals total across their careers at Macalester.

“I want to thank our three seniors, Ella Thomsen, Livi Novello and Mia Brisbin for their leadership as a senior class and unwavering commitment to strengthening our program’s culture and success on the field,” Buckley wrote. “We wouldn’t be here without them and they’ve left a great legacy of leadership and competitiveness. I told our team in our last huddle, they have big shoes to fill but we will grow into them because that senior class has made it possible for us to want to grow into their shoes one day.”

As the Auggies went out to thank the fans who had traveled to see them, the Scots too came back out onto the field for the last time in 2023 to receive warm applause for their season, which saw them earn third place in the MIAC for the first time since 2015. After an up year, the Scots will look to improve once again in 2024, as they have done every year since 2019 in conference play. 

“We have unfinished business and returners will remember this feeling of wanting more so we will take that feeling into our off-season training and have it drive us forward into our next season,” Buckley wrote to conclude. “We have work to do but I am so proud of this team’s accomplishments this season and look forward to what’s in store next for Mac women’s soccer.”

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Noah Riccardi, Sports Editor

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