JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was a Senior Day to remember on Sunday for the Jacksonville University women’s soccer team. Down 1-0 in the second half, two goals from Marie Weckhurst and Kaitlyn Bassett in the space of five minutes allowed the Dolphins (11-7-0, 6-3-0 Atlantic Sun) to come from behind and defeat the Mercer Bears (9-7-3, 4-3-2 A-Sun) by a score of 2-1. That result, along with a shocking 4-1 victory across town by UNF over Kennesaw State, gave Jacksonville the necessary combination to rise above KSU and back into second place in the conference, clinching a first-round bye for the Dolphins.
All that was far from certain when the day began. With little separating these two sides throughout the years, another rugged affair was expected and that’s what the fans at Southern Oak Stadium were treated to. Weckhurst was the main Jacksonville threat throughout the day – putting six shots on goal in the match – and she put Mercer on notice early on, forcing a save out of Maggie Cropp within the first minute of the contest. As the game approached 10 minutes in, she got on the end of a corner kick from Adriana Rodrigues and sent a header towards the left side of the net. Only a save from a defender on the post kept the match scoreless.
Another corner kick at the 20-minute mark gave Jacksonville another excellent scoring opportunity. This time it was Joy Grove with the delivery and Ally Lee getting a head on the ball and sending it toward the roof of the net. Cropp leapt at the last second to get a glove on it and push it over the top. Minutes later, Bassett outworked the crowd in the box to connect with a corner kick from Grove. Her first header was blocked but she followed the ball and sent a shot on goal that required another save from Cropp to keep the match level at the break.
The scoring opened just over three minutes into the second half. With only a few players in the box, Mercer’s Lauren Gassie sent a shot in towards Sarah Sierra from the right side that Sierra pushed away. Unfortunately the ball fell perfectly to an oncoming Casey Barrett, who slid it home past Sierra to put the Bears on top, 1-0.
Slowly but surely, the Dolphins began to tilt the playing field and spent more and more time on the Mercer half. The payoff came in the 64th minute and it was Weckhurst who tied it. On a throw-in from the right sideline, the Bears sent one defender over to cover. After Miranda Fyfe found Brooke Comans on the throw, Comans slid the ball back to Fyfe who had all the time she needed to make a perfectly weighted cross to the back post where Weckhurst was waiting.
Seizing the momentum, Jacksonville continued to pour forward in search of the go-ahead score. It came in the 69th minute when Ashley Poirier outpaced the Bears down the left side and fed a ball toward the center of the field. Bassett got on the end of it and from the left edge of the penalty area blasted a shot to the lower right corner to give the Dolphins the lead.
Mercer nearly came back to knot the score in the 75th minute, but the effort from MacKenzie Stewart hit the crossbar and stayed out. Moments later, both Grove and Poirier nearly put the match away with goal-bound shots that were saved by Cropp. The last scare from the Bears came in the 85th minute on a shot from Gassie, but Sierra was there to hold it for the Dolphins.
The win capped the home careers of Comans, Lee and Rodrigues. With the bye into the semifinals, Sunday turned out to be the final match of the season at Southern Oak Stadium for the Dolphins. Next weekend Mercer will be at home to take on Stetson, with the winner of that match to meet Florida Gulf Coast. Jacksonville will await the winner of Kennesaw State and Lipscomb in the other semifinal, which will be held on Nov. 8 on the campus of FGCU.