For the second time in program history, the Bulldogs have advanced to the NCAA DII Regional Championship game.
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs upset Ashland and Cedarville to start the tournament. They beat the three seed Ashland with penalty kicks in the opening round and then beat the two seed Cedarville 3-1 in the second round.
Ferris was just two seeds away from not even making the tournament. Their strong performances to start the tournament have their Cinderella story continuing. After a 1-3-2 start to the regular season, there were times where a NCAA DII tournament appearance seemed very unlikely.
“That really drove us and gave us momentum and fuel for the fire,” head coach Greg Henson said. “Just extremely proud. Glad to be a part of this journey.”
The Bulldogs got off to a slow start on Thursday, not having much in the way of production for the greater part of the first half. They were pushed back even farther once Ashland opened up the scoring at 37:25 on a shot from Leiah Goedde that barely got through the defense of goalkeeper Darya Mosallaei.
Coming out of halftime, the Bulldogs started quickly on offense. Senior Nikki May tied the game just under three minutes into the half. She rocketed a volley from the top of the goalie box into the top left corner to tie up the score.
“We needed to go out into the second half really strong,” May said. “So scoring that was really a breakthrough for us, and we really needed it.”
Staunch defensive efforts from both teams closed out regulation with a tie game. The overtime periods nearly came to an end as the Bulldog offense created two chances to send the Eagles packing, but the missed opportunities pushed the game into penalty kicks.
Ashland got out to a 2-0 lead in the penalty kick. But the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Isabella Zamborini, breathed new life by answering with a goal of her own to bring the score to 2-1, which was followed by a big stop by Mosallaei and another goal by May in the third round. The back and forth continued into the 8th round, where Brinley Bell slotted the ball through Ashland’s keeper to tie the score at 8-8. Another stop by Mosallaei meant that senior Isabella Sabo had a chance to finish the game.
Both benches looked on as Sabo stepped back. The preparation gave the Bulldogs flashbacks to last season, when they lost to Saginaw Valley in penalty kicks 3-0 in the opening round of the NCAA DII tournament play. But this time, the Bulldogs came out on top in the penalty kicks. Sabo’s kick to the top left caught keeper Bri Rogers off balance, bringing a walk-off win for the team in the ninth round of penalty kicks.
“We were confident,” Sabo said. “We practice [penalty kicks] everyday, and we came out and got the result.”
The Bulldogs lived to fight another day and a fight they would have. Playing into the underdog role once again as they would took on Cedarville, who held the #2 seed in the region.
With snow on the field, mother nature delayed the game by an hour, but that did nothing to cool Ferris down. At 24:22, Zamborini scored her 12th goal of the season off a pass from freshman Ella Wolf. Despite the early lead, the production slowed down for the duration of the half.
Ferris extended their lead at 80:03 when a lobbed corner kick from Grace Pratt found the head of senior Jessie Bandyk. Bandyk’s leaping header barely made it over the outstretched arms of Cedarville’s keeper and went bardown to put the Bulldogs at a 2-0 advantage late in regulation.
“It’s the resiliency of this group. They’ve shown it game in and game out,” Henson said. “It’s that grit and determination that really makes us a tough team to play against.”
31 seconds later, the Yellow Jackets answered. Cedarville’s Mary Kate Wyer scored the lone goal for the opposition and breathed new life into the team.
But the change in momentum was short lived, as Zamborini found herself with the ball on a breakaway. She fought her way past the last defender, giving herself a one-on-one opportunity against the keeper. She cut to the left and found a wide open angle for her 13th goal of the season, which iced the game for the Bulldogs at 88:46.
The Yellow Jackets had 15 shots compared to 12 for Ferris, six corner kicks to Ferris’ five and three fewer fouls. But this next stat line is in Ferris’ favor: three goals to one.
With the win, Ferris will head to Bemidji, Minn. on Friday, Nov. 18, to face rival and top seed Grand Valley for the Midwest Regional Championship at 1 p.m. Ferris faced Grand Valley in the same game in 2018 and lost 2-1. The Bulldogs tied Grand Valley twice in the regular season and lost 3-0 in the GLIAC Semifinal.