Sawan sends Mountainside to 6A semis with game-winning PK
Nedya Sawan was under siege all match-long
Every time the 2018 Metro League Player of the Year got a sniff of the soccer ball or came within range of a touch, the Mountainside junior was jumped by two Sunset defenders and forced to kick the ball away.
In the all-Metro League Class 6A quarterfinal clash between Sunset and Mountainside, it was obvious Sawan was the Apollos' main target, the top player circled on the scouting report. Anybody else could try and beat Sunset, but not Sawan who scored twice in the teams' prior match, a 4-1 decision in favor of the Mavs.
The one place Sunset couldn't touch Sawan was the penalty kick box. And when the Apollos wounded themselves with a self-inflicted gaffe, Sawan made sure she cashed in.
After a Sunset hand ball in Mountainside's box with seven minutes to go in the match, Sawan set up behind her penalty kick and pelted home the go-ahead goal to give the Mavericks a 1-0 lead. It was the shot of the match from the player of the match as the Mavericks moved on to the 6A semis against Jesuit with the 1-0 decision over Sunset on Saturday at Mountainside High.
"This shows how much grit we have," Sawan said. "We're coming out and proving people wrong every game. It shows how strong of a team we are."
All eyes were on Sawan as she placed the ball down just yards away from the goal and calmly walked back and to the left to set herself for the eventual game-winner. The stadium, packed and enthused all game, went quiet. For the first time all night, after the constant double teams and extra defensive attention, Sawan was alone, free to finish and put her team within a game of the state title.
"I kind of just blocked everything out and took the kick," Sawan said. "I knew that was my one chance for the game. Of course, there are nerves when you're taking a penalty kick, but standing back there I felt confident and knew I needed to get in the back of the net. I knew what needed to be done, I did my best and it worked."
The match was billed as a Stephanie Niebergall vs. Sawan showdown in whichever first-team all-Metro star could make a play first would take the match. But neither star could capitalize as both teams' defenses limited chances and took away looks. For a while, it felt like post-overtime penalty kicks were inevitable. Yet Sawan's goal settled the score late and Mountainside's defense, so pivotal in slowing Niebergall and Sunset's attack, kept the clean sheet. Junior Bethany Newton and sophomore Izzie Carrington play center back while Emma Weber mans the left side and Ellie Smith is on the right half of the defense. The foursome kept Sunset in check, constantly clearing balls out of the back
"Our defense is awesome, they've saved us through the whole season," Sawan said. "They're solid every game. Even if they make a mistake, the next play they hammer right out again."
It'll be all hands on deck against the No. 1 Crusaders, a juggernaut that's eaten teams alive in the postseason. Bigger upsets have happened in OSAA history, as Mountainside head coach Travis Schoonover told his team. Few teams have ever been as quality as Jesuit, however. If Mountainside wins it would be one of the largest upheavals in state history.
"Now that we've met our next goal, we have our eyes on the prize," Sawan said. "It's going to be a tough game and we're going to have to grind it out."