A chipped ball floats over the head of Pacific Lutheran goalkeeper Cassidy Crosswhite and lands in the back of the net. Screaming erupts from the field and stands alike.
On the field, members of Linfield women’s soccer team pile on each other. In the stands, spectators go wild.
It wasn’t the first goal of the game, nor was it the last. But it was the highlight of the last match the team’s 10 seniors will ever play on Linfield soil.
The black and gold Lutes made their mark early in the first half with an unassisted goal by Ellie Johnson.
The Wildcats came back to tie it up with the chip shot. They went on to win it 2-1 with a header by junior Michayla Sponsel.
The Lutes are ranked number one in the conference. They have already clinched the NWC regular season title.
They came to town on a 15-game winning streak. And they only gave up two goals during that entire stretch.
But the fifth-ranked Wildcats were up to the challenge, sneaking two goals past the Lutes in their final home game of the season, as they soaked up their final moments playing together.
“I think our team loves each other more than anything,” said senior Taylor Cole. “I think today it means so much playing for each other. And we had nothing to lose.”
The senior class dominates the team with also four juniors and 10 underclassmen.
“There are 10 of us,” said senior Carole Thomas, “and we’ve had a tremendous bond that begin pretty immediately after we met four years ago.”
The tight chemistry of the team was evident on the field come game day. The Wildcats made the right connections, enabling senior Sydney Kuehn to send the ball flying downfield with laser-like accuracy.
“I was jogging hoping that it would kind of land perfectly right there,” Cole said. “And it landed perfectly, and I saw the keeper was up a couple yards, so I decided to kind of chip it right over her.”
“It worked!” she exclaimed, breaking into a laugh.
The tying goal came with 29:40 left on the clock in the first half.
“Syd was right there, and she was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Cole said. She responded, “Heck yes,” and jumped into Kuehn’s arms.
“It was the greatest feeling I’ve had,” she said.
In the second half, the Wildcats press the ball back to the Lutes’ goal.
Kuehn kicks it in toward junior Kristen Burke, who fires a crossing shot right in front of the goal. Sponsel is lying in wait, four feet in front of the goalie, and heads it in.
The atmosphere is electric, as the ‘Cats now lead 2-1 over the top-ranked team in the conference. Throughout the stands and along the entire bench, star-shaped balloons in hues of purple, red and silver bounce in the wind to commemorate the occasion.
Linfield last prevailed over PLU in 2014, before this year’s seniors arrived on campus.
“We’ve been working our entire four years for this,” Cole said. “It’s the first time that we’ve ever beaten PLU, and it feels really good, especially on senior night.”
In addition to Thomas, Cole and Kuehn, the team’s roster of seniors includes Anna Peckham, Mary Cait Moriarty, Lexi Kerr, Natalie Amara, Amidee Colleknon, Baylie Cameron and Lauren Frost.
Kuehn transferred in as a sophomore, but the other nine have played together all four years. Injuries kept Colleknon, Cameron and Frost out of the action, but they were honored nonetheless.
The three were announced as starters and took the field for the kickoff. But by prior arrangement, PLU booted the ball out of bounds, allowing Linfield to sub in three healthy players.
Frost tore her ACL in October, but mimicked jumping up and down getting ready for kickoff.
The referee blew his whistle. Everybody stayed in the position as Moriarity passed the ball to a PLU player who then kicked it out of bounds. The horn blew signaling for substitutes.
After the emotional win, the ‘Cats head into their final game of the season, a road tilt against George Fox.