COLLEGE SOCCER: Stonehill women back in NCAA Division 2 tournament

The Skyhawks will make their third appearance in four years when they face Jefferson University in Albany on Friday afternoon in the East Regional.

EASTON – The Stonehill College women's soccer team made history in 2016 by reaching the NCAA Division 2 tournament for the first time.

Nicole Geraghty of Bridgewater, Kaitlin Brown, Isabella Collentro, Elizabeth Nerger and Emily Rosano were freshmen that year when the Skyhawks broke through to play in the national tourney.

Little did those newcomers to the college soccer scene realize that would be the start of a special era at Stonehill.

The Skyhawks followed up that first-ever NCAA appearance in '16 by earning another bid in 2018 and now, those five players are capping off their careers with a third trip to the NCAAs this week.

Stonehill (11-4-4) is the No. 4 seed in the East Region and will play fifth-seeded Jefferson University of Philadelphia (15-5) in Albany, New York, on Friday at 3 p.m.

After being shut out of the NCAA tourney for so many years, the Skyhawks are participants for the third time in four seasons.

"That was amazing freshman year, and now going a third time, I never really thought that would have happened,″ said Brown, a three-year starter who has a 0.95 goals against average and three shutouts this season. "But we've been playing so well and work hard. It's been a goal for us, and it's exciting we get to go back as seniors.″

Geraghty, who is a captain with Brown and junior Alex Giardina, is a four-year starter with 15 goals and 11 assists in 74 career games with six goals and four assists this season

"After the first year, I definitely thought it was achievable again, so my goal was to get back there,″ said the former Enterprise All-Scholastic and Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School graduate. "I wouldn't say I thought we'd make it three times. But it's such an incredible experience, especially to do it senior year.″

Her first winning season was 2016 when Stonehill (15-6-1) earned the NE-10 championship for the first time since 1995, and the Skyhawks went 13-7 last season before being nationally ranked this fall.

"When I was here as a player, it was so competitive,″ said Wilson, an all-conference goalie from 2004-07 who was named the NE-10 coach of the year this season. "We made the (conference) playoffs a couple of years, but never the NCAAs. It was a pipe dream.

"When I came back here having experienced the NCAAs as a coach at Franklin Pierce, I said this is what it's about. This is that stage, that next level. I kind of brought that mentality back here.

"At first, I was always a little hesitant to chirp about it, but then I said we need to talk about this. If this is a goal for us, we need to have it out there on the board that it's something to strive for. We'd love to continue to do this.

"It's always been a goal to make it not a surprise when we get to the tournament. Hopefully it becomes part of the norm and part of the culture.″

After losing nine seniors from the first NCAA tourney team, the Skyhawks finished below .500 in 2017, but they have bounced back with solid back-to-back seasons, winning 24 games. Collentro, Tess Erwin, Kayla Henry and Emma Slade made the all-conference first team this season, Giardina and Camryn Thompson were second-team picks while Brown and Geraghty are on the third team.

"Making it freshman year and getting an automatic bid gave us some insight that it was possible to do and it wasn't some kind of luck just to get in. We've been able to hold ourselves to that standard now that it's possible and that each year that's what we should strive for. Having that as a goal from the beginning of the year definitely helps to get there at the end.″

Stonehill lost to American International College, 3-1, in the opening round in 2016. Last season, the Skyhawks were edged by Bridgeport, 2-1, on a late penalty kick, eliminated by a team that went on to win the national championship.

Now, Stonehill is back, trying to make history with its first NCAA tourney victory, which would cap off the careers of the five seniors who were part of the first trip to the nationals.

"That would be a great way to end our careers,″ said Brown. "Going for a third time, at this point, we're more used to going than not going. Being the first team to win an NCAA game is something we've worked for and really want to do. We're ready for that next step.″

Said Geraghty: "It's definitely something I want to achieve before I leave. It'd be such a nice way to end our careers, being able to make program history again. We've been extremely close. There's still nerves going into it. The expectations are different -- let's win the first round, we can do this. We've been there before, now it's can we get that first win?″

After the close call against Bridgeport a year ago, the Skyhawks are aiming to get over the hump this week.

"They're hungry for the first win now,″ said Wilson. "That's the goal. We're done talking about the experience. For us it's getting what we want, a win and advancing through the rounds.″

Jim Fenton may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.

Original article: The Enterprise