This was not how Bronx Science coach Annie Eckstein wanted to see her Wolverines’ season decided.
Playing on the road against No. 8 seed Scholars Academy — and not being able to hold on to an early 1-0 lead, there were the ninth-seeded Wolverines — facing a win-or-go-home postseason scenario, as they stepped into the drama known as penalty kicks to decide who would advance to the Public School Athletic League quarterfinals.
So up stepped Ruby Hogue in the first round of penalty kicks, and the Wolverines’ junior promptly drilled a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. But Scholars answered on its first attempt.
Then it was Sofia Mahairas’ turn, and the Wolverines junior knocked her shot into the net as well. But seconds later, Scholars followed suit to knot the score at 2.
But that’s when things started to turn against Science when Amalia El Nems saw her shot attempt crash off the crossbar, opening the door for Scholars to take the lead, which the Lady Seawolves did on their next attempt for a 3-2 advantage. Elena Morgan then gave Science new hope when her fourth-round shot found the net to tie things again at 3. But Scholars answered again to take a 4-3 lead entering the fifth and final round.
And when Maya Schuchert’s shot was saved by Scholars goalkeeper Nicole Vega, the Lady Seawolves were moving on, and Science’s season — one that included a third straight unbeaten regular season and third consecutive Bronx A-1 Division crown — was suddenly over.
“That was tough,” Eckstein said. “It’s never the way you want to finish a game. I thought toward the end of the game we had the better play, but it was really frustrating not being able to score. We had a really great effort and all the girls played really hard, but I don’t think we played our best soccer unfortunately.”
Science jumped out on Scholars early when freshman Norah Smith scored off an assist from Morgan in the sixth minute of the game for an early 1-0 lead.
“They were actually kind of controlling the game, and we counterattacked and scored on the counterattack,” Eckstein said. “After that, it was back and forth a little bit, but I felt like they were getting the better of play in the beginning.”
Scholars answered Science’s goal later in the first half when senior Kelsey Flynn knotted the game at 1, and it remained that way throughout the second half, which ultimately set the stage for the dreaded penalty kicks to decide the victor.
It was a frustrating end to the season for a Wolverines program that has posted 42-3 regular-season mark over the past four seasons, including those three perfect regular-seasons — but ones that have yet to end with any championship hardware the past three seasons.
Last year Science saw its season end in the quarterfinal round. The season before, it was a semifinals finish after the Wolverines won it all in 2015.
And while the loss was a painful one for Science, the silver lining is the Wolverines will most likely be back in the thick of the championship chase again next year as they return all their key players, including Mahairas, Morgan, Hogue, Schuchert and Jennifer Brown, who are all currently juniors.
“We do have a very strong returning team so that’s definitely a plus,” Eckstein said. “Hopefully we’ll get some new freshmen to complement them.”
Another thing Eckstein would like is some stiffer competition during the regular season, which would have the Wolverines more battle-tested once the postseason came calling. It’s gratifying winning division title after division title, but Eckstein and her Wolverines would gladly trade all of them for another city championship.
“I would love get out and play other (premier programs), but getting field space is a huge challenge for us,” Eckstein said. “And getting teams to travel up to us or for us to travel somewhere, logistically it is very difficult. So we have to work with what we got. But we would be much happier in a stronger division where we would be more challenged in the regular season.”
But with Mahairas, Morgan and company returning for their senior seasons next year, perhaps the Wolverines will finally make that return to the PSAL championship in 2019 — and party again like it was 2015.
“We would love to turn things around next year in the playoffs certainly,” Eckstein said. “And we’ll have the same girls back, which is very good.”