RECAP | Third Time's a Charm - Franklin Captures First Ever HCAC Women's Soccer Tournament TItle

Photo courtesy of Jackson Barnes
Photo courtesy of Jackson Barnes

Score: #1 Franklin 2 | #2 Mount St. Joseph 0
Records: Franklin 14-4 | Mount St. Joseph 17-4
Location: Faught Stadium | Franklin, Ind.

FRANKLIN, Ind. – The Franklin College women's soccer can call themselves something that no team in program history has been able to before – Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) tournament champions.

Making their third straight appearance in the finals of the league's women's soccer tournament, the Grizzlies broke through in front of an energetic crowd at Faught Stadium on Saturday night. Taylor McDaniel and Maddie Fleet potted second half goals to seal a 2-0 win, earning the program's first ever HCAC championship.

After the game, Fleet was named the HCAC Tournament MVP after scoring in both games of the conference tournament, adding to her seemingly endless number of accolades over the last three years.

"This is something we have worked so hard for since I got here," Fleet said after the game. "This has been our goal since day one and the feeling is just unbelievable. We worked our tails off tonight. We fought for each other and we worked for each other and it was a total team effort."

"I couldn't be prouder of these players right now," Head coach Cristin Allen said after the game. "We played a great team today that gave us our only conference loss of the year, so we knew we were going to be in for a battle. Our players dug in and showed unreal mental strength and came away with a big win."

Early in the match, the Lions' attack was pressing, putting up five shots and three shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes. Each time an attempt landed on net, Lexi Short was there to turn the Lions aside and keep the game scoreless.

Fleet had a golden opportunity to put the Grizzlies in front in the 14th minute on a counter-attack. She was able to maneuver past an aggressive play from MSJ goalkeeper Michelle Hessing, but her shot attempt went off her heel and wide. Franklin would put three shots on target in the opening half, but neither teams was able to find the back of the net in the opening 45 minutes.

Early in the second half, the Grizzlies hit pay dirt. Clare Lenart stepped up to take a free kick from 25 yards out, letting go a missile that Hessing got with her fingertips, but the rebound went off the crossbar right to a waiting McDaniel who tapped in the loose ball for her fifth goal of the year in the 51st minute.

Desperately searching for the tying goal, the Lions were just inches away from evening things up in the 64th minute. Stefanie Autenrieb let a shot go from deep that rang off the crossbar and the follow-up header from Morgan Knasel sailed over the crossbar.

Less than four minutes later, Fleet put the game out of reach with a beautiful individual effort. The Indianapolis-native split two defenders for a loose ball and chipped a shot over the outstretched arms of Hessing to make it 2-0 in the 68th minute.

That proved to be enough as the Franklin defense stifled the Lions the rest of the way. When the final horn sounded, the Grizzlies gathered for an emotional celebration three years in the making.

Final shots were 14-13 in favor of the Lions with both teams putting seven shots on target. Fleet led all players with four shots on goal for Franklin.

In goal, Lexi Short recorded her third consecutive clean sheet with seven saves on the night. Hessing turned aside five Franklin shots at the other end for the Mount.

Now the Grizzlies play the waiting game as they wait to learn their NCAA tournament fate. Franklin will learn their opening round opponent during the selection show, which takes place on Monday (Nov. 6) at 1:00 p.m.