UVM women’s soccer wins first America East conference title, earns automatic bid to NCAA Tournament

Catamounts will make their first trip to the big dance since 1984 after defeating UNH in the title game
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 10:02 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The dream season continues for the University of Vermont women’s soccer team.

After starting conference play with two straight losses, the Catamounts rattled off seven straight wins to claim the America East regular season title and have the conference tournament run through Virtue Field as the No. 1 seed. UVM responded with three unanswered goals in the semifinal round against the University at Albany to come back and win 3-1. One goal made the difference in the championship game on Sunday behind UVM senior forward Cricket Basa’s one-touch finish in the 80th minute to deliver the Catamounts their first-ever conference title 1-0 over the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

In front of 2,017 fans, UVM earned the automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. It’s the program’s second appearance and first since 1984 when UVM lost to Harvard 2-1 in the first round.

“We really started from the bottom,” Basa said. “The preseason polls in the America East did not have us anywhere close to the top. We definitely had people doubting us, so to come out with a win and to win the America East is massive.”

A team that is filled top to bottom with seniors has the program playing some of its winningest soccer since 1996 when the Cats won their first America East regular season title. Basa was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player along with senior goalkeeper Lydia Kessel, senior defender Alex West and junior Karen Wallace finding themselves on the America East All-Championship Team.

In the closing moments of the game, Kessel made a game-saving play with arguably UNH’s best chance. A dangerous free-kick came into the box and Kessel dived onto a shot attempt that bounced behind her and was able to cover up the loose ball. The effort helped close out the second half to give Kessel her fifth clean sheet of the season.

“Like we didn’t think that this would happen, but we just kept working,” Kessel said. “The main focus was to get every game one at a time. It’s amazing to have this be my last game at Virtue ... I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The Catamounts await their next opponent and location following the NCAA selection show on Monday at 4:30 p.m. The game is scheduled for November 12th.

UVM believes not only is their best soccer still ahead, but the Catamounts feel like they still have something to prove come the NCAA Tournament.

“Once you get to that next stage, athleticism matters,” UVM head coach Kristi Huizenga said. “And I think we have some pretty good athletes on this team. We’re excited to see who we draw and what we can do in the tournament.”

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