LEXINGTON, Va. - The VMI women's soccer team took the lead in the 12th minute and held on for a 1-0 win over the Mercer Bears in SoCon women's soccer action Sunday afternoon at Patchin Field in Lexington, Va. The game was the regular season finale for both clubs, and with the victory, the Keydets will be the #5 seed in the upcoming SoCon Championship and will face #4 Western Carolina on October 29 in Cullowhee, N.C.
VMI (7-10-1, 4-4-1 SoCon) jumped ahead in the 12th minute, when off a Taylor Callahan free kick, a Mercer (9-9-1, 3-5-1) defender headed the ball into the air. The play caught MU keeper Jordyn Ebert off guard and out of position as it put the ball behind her, and a second defender was unable to head the ball out as it went for an own goal to give the Keydets they would not surrender.
It was not without a battle, however, as the Bears turned up the offensive pressure in the second half, a second period that saw two yellow cards and a rare straight red card assessed. Mercer had two key opportunities go by the boards, the first of which came in the 64th minute. Caroline Smith had a shot from 20 yards out and angled it well, but VMI goalkeeper Ceci Keppeler made a jumping play to tip the ball over the crossbar.
The Bears then had a golden chance in the 82nd minute. Keppeler moved to her left to attempt to make a play on a ball in the box, but a Mercer player was able to deflect it loose from the VMI keeper. The ball sat loose in the box for multiple seconds, but MU's Jasmine Spence could not take advantage, missing a shot wide left. Keppeler made one additional save, but was not seriously threatened the rest of the way as the Keydets closed out the shutout, their fifth of the season.
The four total cards between the teams was the most in a VMI home match since Aug. 22, 2014, when the Keydets and Howard combined for five, and the three cards assessed to Mercer were the most by a VMI opponent since Oct. 16, 2016, when the Citadel drew three yellows in a match in Charleston. The straight red card issued to a Mercer assistant coach was the first assessed to a VMI opponent at Patchin Field since Sept. 1, 2009.
Prior to the match, the women's soccer senior class was honored, and senior Amy Horney tied the school record for games played and set a new VMI mark for games started (both with 77).
"I was so proud of our effort today," said VMI head coach Chris Bergmann. "We developed a great set piece and created the scoring chance that led to the goal, which we were in position to score on, and our defensive effort in the second half was special. We are excited to move forward to the tournament quarterfinals and look forward to a good match against a quality opponent in Western Carolina."
For the season, the Keydets' 4-4-1 conference mark tied Western Carolina's, but as a result of WCU's 1-0 win in Lexington on Sept. 29, the Catamounts will host the match and receive the #4 seed. The Keydets still, however, equal their second-highest postseason seed in program history, tying the 2009 team's fifth seed in the Big South, and finish at .500 or better in conference play for the first time since 2009.
It is the first time since joining the SoCon prior to the 2014 season that VMI will not play in the tournament first round, but rather, will get a bye to the quarterfinals as a top-six seed.
VMI women's soccer will return to action October 29, when the fifth-seeded Keydets take on #4 Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C. Action gets underway at 1 p.m.