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Women's Semifinal 1 Preview

Other Previews:  Women's Semifinal 2 Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2

By Staff

NCAA Division III Women's Soccer - National Semifinal 1

Friday, December 1 — 11:00 am ET

No. 3  Chicago (21-1-0)


No. 1  TCNJ (21-0-1)

How they reached the Final Four

   Berth 1st / 2nd Rounds Sectional
Chicago Pool C at-large W3-0 St. Catherine (H)
W4-0 #21 Hope (H)
W2-0 #17 Wheaton (Ill.) (H)
W4-0 #16 UW-La Crosse (H)
TCNJ NJAC AQ W3-0 Roger Williams (H)
W3-0 Virginia Wesleyan (H)
W5-0 #15 Lynchburg (H)
T1-1 #10 Messiah (H)

2017 Statistical Overview

   Record (Pct.) GSA : GAA (Diff.) Avg. OWP SoS vs. Top 25 Last Ten
Chicago 21-1-0 (.955) 3.59 : 0.27 (+3.32) .671 .652 6-1-0 9-1-0
TCNJ 21-0-1 (.977) 3.35 : 0.18 (+3.17) .616 .613 3-0-1 9-0-1

Chicago Season Review

After spending six consecutive weeks ranked No.1, the Maroons tasted defeat for the only time this season when UAA foe Washington U. scored two quick goals in the second half for a 2-1 final in their last regular season contest. Wash U.’s victory left both teams at 6-1-0 in conference play with the Bears earning the UAA AQ on the head to head. The now No. 3 ranked Maroons were an at-large pick for this year’s tournament. Earlier in the season, Chicago had little trouble with regional foes Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton (Ill.). On the road, the Maroons outshot the Titans 23-5, winning 3-1. And at home against Wheaton, the Maroons won 2-1, with a 20-6 shot advantage.

The Maroons were 5-1-0 against Top 25 teams this season and sport a .652 SOS rating. The tough schedule put together by Coach Amy Reifert, as well as the experience of returning leaders makes Chicago one of the favorites in this year’s tournament. Against this quality the 2017 edition of the Maroons has established new team high water marks in the program’s 32 year history for wins (21), win pct. (.955), winning streak (17), goals (77), assists (67), goals allowed (6) and shutouts (17); in most cases crushing the previous record.

Chicago hosted opening weekend of the tournament and were not threated in their opening round 3-0 win over St. Catherine as they dominated both on the scoreboard and in the box score. The second round contest with No. 21 Hope, however, had the home fans on edge until the Maroon attack erupted for three quick scores after the 70th minute mark securing a ticket to the Sweet 16. The total margin of victory in the Sweet 16 was 29 goals, materially higher than the high mark of 22 (2011) of the previous ten tournaments. The Maroons contributed more than their fair share. In their Sweet 16 clash, they defeated Wheaton (Ill.) 2-0. After an early flurry, the Thunder did not threaten the Maroon goal and recorded a sole shot in the contest. With two wins in 2017 Chicago inched closer to leveling this 30 year rivalry now at 14-19-3. In Saturday’s Elite 8 matchup Chicago faced UW-La Crosse, a rapidly improving squad under Head Coach and former Chicago Assistant Coach, Jason Murphy. The Maroons put to rest any Eagles fans hopes of a Cinderella run when they scored quickly at the 12:03 mark and cruised to a 4-0 final.

TCNJ Season Review

At 21-0-1 TCNJ (The College of New Jersey) is one of two unbeaten women’s teams remaining in the tournament. Hardin-Simmons, in the second semifinal with a perfect 23-0-0, is the other. The Lions were ranked No. 9 in our first poll of the season, ascended to the No. 2 spot by Week 5 and reached the pinnacle in the final regular season poll (Week 10). They arrived at the top on the strength of an elite attack (3.35 GSA) combined with the second-ranked team defense in the nation (.18 GAA).

The Lions stout defense opened the season with twelve straight shutouts before conceding two (on a total of three shots) in a 3-2 victory over Montclair State. After a regular season ending 2-1 win at Rowan, they started another shutout streak going through the NJAC tournament and the first three rounds of NCAA contests unbreached. With a mere four goals conceded all season, the Lions are tied at the top of Division III with Messiah, with whom they shared corner kick goals in their Elite 8 battle. The stingy defense which allows only 3.9 shots per game is superbly backstopped by NJAC Goalkeeper of the Year, Nicole DiPasquale. But TCNJ is not a one trick pony. Their goal differential trails only offensive machine Hardin-Simmons and is essentially the same as Chicago's. Their 75 goals and 3.35 GSA are 12th and 17th respectively in the nation. NJAC Offensive Player of the Year, forward Christine Levering leads the attack with 16 goals and 5 assists, but she is not alone as ten other Lions have hit the back of the net three or more times.

On the first tourney's first weekend TCNJ earned comfortable 3-0 margins first over the Hawks of Roger Williams and then the Virginia Wesleyan Marlins on Sunday. The final scores may understate the Lions’ control of the matches. The stats line from Saturday was 24-3 / 17-1 / 7-0 for Shots / Shots on Goal / Corners respectively while Sunday’s was 32-2 / 12-0 / 6-1. Last weekend the Lions contributed to the combined Sweet 16 goal differential with a 5-0 win over No. 15 Lynchburg. Their goals (on only 13 shots) came in two bunches. The first in the 4th and 8th minutes. Since TCNJ has not conceded more than a single goal in a match all season the Hornets had a huge mountain to climb but time to do so. All doubt was removed when the Lions got on the board again in the 76th followed by two more in quick succession. In the Elite 8 game against Messiah, home fans anxiety levels reached stratospheric levels when the Falcons scored off a corner kick in the 25th minute putting the Lions is unfamiliar territory as they had trailed for a total of 9 minutes 46 seconds all season. With a strong wind at their backs in the second half, TCNJ had the better of play for the most part and leveled the match in the 60th minute, also off a corner kick. Both sides had dangerous chances over the remainder of the second period. After two relatively uneventful overtimes the Falcons immediately were down 1-0 after the first round of kicks and it was “Déjà vu all over again” for Messiah. Regardless of allegiances, all D3 soccer fans surely have some empathy for the Messiah seniors whose runs deep into the tournament ended cruelly in kicks all four years.

Head Coaches


Amy Reifert, 27th year (1991-2017), 352-129-47

NCAA's (16 of 27 yrs.): 25-14-5 (.625) | 4th Final Four | Runner-up ('03), Final Four ('96,'05,'16)

A 1986 graduate of Amherst, Coach Amy Reifert began her soccer coaching career as head women’s coach at Knox in 1987. Prior to her arrival in 1991, Chicago women’s soccer was 15-59-3 all time. In her first season the Maroons recorded a 3-10-4 mark and 349-119-43 (.725) thereafter in one of the most competitive conferences in Division III women’s soccer. She now has a 352-129-47 (.712) overall career record while leading the Maroons. Reifert’s Chicago squads have won five UAA championships, made 17 NCAA tournament appearances, advanced to eleven Sweet 16’s and five Final Fours, and were the national runner-up to Oneonta State in 2003. She has been recognized seven times as UAA Coach of the Year, three times as Central Region Coach of the Year and in 1996 was named NCAA Division III Coach of the Year after the Maroons advanced to the Final Four in their first NCAA appearance.


Joe Russo, 28th year (1990-2017), 503-62-41

NCAA's (26 of 28 yrs.): 58-21-4 (.723) | 8th Final Four | Champ. ('93,'94,'00), Runner-Up ('96,'98,'05,'06), Elite 8 ('91,'92,'01,'14)

Coach Joe Russo, Alderson Broaddus College '81, has been the head women’s soccer coach at TCNJ since the program’s inception in 1990. Now in his 28th season, Coach Joe Russo has spent his entire career at TCNJ while sporting a record through last weekend of 504-62-42 (.863). He is second among Division III women’s soccer coaches in all-time wins and third in winning pct. among active coaches with at least five seasons on the job. His NCAA tourney accomplishments are unrivaled with four Elite 8’s, runner-up four times and three national championships. He has been named NJAC Coach of the Year eight times and is a six-time honoree as the New Jersey College Coach of the Year. In 1993 he was chosen as the Division III National Coach of the Year, following his first national championship. Coach Russo received one of most prestigious honors of his coaching career when he was inducted into the Mercer County Soccer Hall of Fame in 2013.

Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 19)

   Overall (Pct.) NCAA Appearances Record Advancement
Chicago 67-17-2 (.791) '14 '15 '16 '17 8-3-1 Sweet 16: '14; Final Four: '16, '17
TCNJ 69-8-8 (.859) '14 '15 '16 '17 7-2-1 Elite 8: '14; Final Four: '17

Tournament Experience

Chicago and TCNJ both have extensive tournament resumes with long records of significant success. TCNJ has been in the tournament 27 times and holds three NCAA Division III National Championships (’93,’94,’00) behind only Messiah and UC San Diego with five each. Additionally the Lions were runner-up four times (’96,’98,’05,’06). TCNJ has 59 tournament victories, second on the all-time tournament list. In the Maroon’s 32 year history, they have 17 appearances, five Final Four’s and were the runner-up in 2003. While the Maroon's CV is not as extensive as the Lions’, their seniors have had more recent success with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2014 and now back to back Final Fours.

Players to Watch

Chicago: #12 M Jenna McKinney (Jr.) – 15g, 6a (2x UAA MVP, 2x UAA 1st Team) | #27 M Mia Calamari (Sr.) – 6g, 18a (2x UAA 1st Team) | #17 D Mackenzie Peebles (So.) – 5a (UAA 1st Team) | #11 F Katie Jasminski (Fr.) – 7g, 5a (UAA Rookie of the Year) | #00 GL Katie Donovan – 0.19 GAA, 0.917 SvPct (UAA Hon. Men.)

TCNJ: #8 F Christine Levering (Sr.) – 15g, 5a, 6GWG (NJAC 2x OPOY, 3x 1st Team) | #10 F Elizabeth Thoresen (Sr.) – 7g, 3a, 3GWG (3x NJAC 1st Team) | #2 M Jessica Goldman (Sr.) – 5g, 9a 2GWG (NJAC 2x MOY, 2x 1st Team) | #9 D Kelly Weiczerzak (Sr.) – (2x NJAC 1st Team) | #98 GK Nicole DiPasquale (So.) – 0.17 GAA, 0.889 SvPct (NJAC GKOY, 1st Team)

Tournament Re-Matches

Despite numerous tournament appearances by both sides over the years, somewhat surprisingly these teams have met only once in the tournament when TCNJ downed Chicago 1-0 in a previous national semifinal matchup. That likely will not have much influence on the outcome this Friday however, since it was the 1996 tournament; most of this year’s players weren’t born yet.


With no disrespect intended to Hardin-Simmons and Williams, at least in the view of our Top 25 panel, this semifinal would have been the ideal championship contest. Chicago was at No. 2 in Weeks 2 and 3 and then held the top spot until the final regular season poll when they dropped back to the third position after falling to Washington U. TCNJ ascended to our No. 2 ranking in Week 4 and remained there until they leapfrogged Chicago in the final poll.

These teams are mirror images in many ways. TCNJ has not lost. Chicago was 41 seconds away from being undefeated coming into this match. Both bring high powered offenses and nearly impenetrable defenses. TCNJ’s GSA ranks 17th nationally, while Chicago is 12th. At the other end of the pitch the Maroons boast the 4th best GAA while the Lions top that with a second ranked mark. Both bring a ton of experience to the pitch. Nearly 50% of TCNJ starts this season were from seniors while Chicago’s starts were 40% from seniors and another 20% from the junior class. Both sides feature highly decorated players with conference, regional and national honors. Christine Levering is the two time NJAC Offensive Player of the Year; Chicago counters with Jenna McKinney twice UAA Most Valuable Player. Levering and Jessica Goldman were 2016 All-Americans. McKinney and Mia Calamari likewise for Chicago with Mia further recognized as’s Midfielder of the Year. All four players earned NSCAA (now USC) first team All-Region honors. Chicago went 6-1-0 against our final regular season Top 25 and 9-1-0 against NCAA regionally ranked teams. TCNJ was 4-0-0 against our final regular season Top 25 and 7-0-0 against NCAA regionally ranked opponents. Both squads are led on the sidelines by two of the longest tenured, most successful and highly regarded coaches in Division III.

There are some differences though. Chicago performs strongly out of the midfield led by McKinney (15 goals) and Calamari (6 goals, 18 assists). On the other hand, TCNJ’s scoring comes from up top with forwards Levering (16 goals) along with Hannah Richman and Elizabeth Thorensen netting eight each. Chicago has played a more challenging schedule overall and is battle hardened by their run through the UAA. While the NJAC is most certainly a competitive conference, it is not the UAA. With so many other factors a wash, the critical difference may be that Chicago’s roster can draw on the experience of last year’s Final Four run.

So what’s it all mean? Both defenses have posted magnificent numbers and are clearly elite, but both attacks are just as impressive so the goal line will be breached by both sides. Benefiting from lessons learned from this year’s schedule and last season’s Final Four run, Chicago edges TCNJ 2-1. With the win, Chicago has the opportunity to become the fourth consecutive first time women’s champion and the third straight team to succeed after falling just short in the prior year Final Four.

Or maybe not. Chicago’s intangibles edge isn’t enough. Championship soccer is fiercely contested and can be decided by individual brilliance or a flash of luck. In this alternative scenario both sides also score but a late potential winner from Chicago dents the frame and after two fruitless overtimes we go to the mark. DiPasquale dons her superhero costume once again stopping two Maroon kicks and the Lions advance to the championship match seeking their fourth.


Other Previews:  Women's Semifinal 2 Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2

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