Darton women's soccer coach Ken Veilands was less than pleased with the officiating in Sunday's NJCAA National Championship game, feeling the refs mistakenly waved off a Lady Cavs goal early in the first half that likely cost the program its first national title in school history.
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Kelly Polk said she didn’t touch the goalie. Countless fans watching the game live and over the Internet agreed, flooding Darton College women’s soccer coach Ken Veilands with calls and texts after the game to confirm as much.
Nevertheless, the game is over, and the Lady Cavs are the national runners-up.
“This time we got (hosed),” Veilands said after Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Tyler, Texas, in the NJCAA National Championship final — the third time in six years Darton reached the finale, only to fall short, and by the same score they lost in 2005. “The (refs) took a goal away from us that we completely disagree with, and the bottom line is we can’t beat the refs and Tyler in the same game. Not gonna happen.”
The Lady Cavs scored — or thought they did — less than 15 minutes into Sunday’s final on a Polk header off a corner kick. But as Darton celebrated and returned to midfield to kickoff, the girls turns around to see the referee waving it off.
“The ref said Kelly bumped into the goalie. I mean, she didn’t come close to touching the goalie,” Veilands said. “I’ve had numerous people there who saw it, and those who watched it online, tell me the same thing. And Kelly said she didn’t touch her, much less interfere.”
The score remained 0-0 until the second half when Tyler fired a ball in from about 40 yards out that was meant to be centered pass, but the ball took an awkward bounce and skipped right past Lady Cavs goalie Sarah Storey.
Veilands said this loss hurt far worse than in 2005.
“It’s so disappointing. We did everything right, and I truly believe we were the better team. This (loss) is definitely more frustrating than the last one,” said Veilands, who started both the men’s and women’s program in 2000 — and both still remain without a national crown; The women have now lost twice in the finals, while the men finished sixth last year and tied for third this season after tying the Tyler men in Sunday’s third-place game in Phoenix.
“I haven’t had a chance to see the video yet, but my guess is I won’t see anything different that we thought happened,” said Veilands, whose sophomore-heavy team — seven in all — ends the year 18-3-2, having avenged one of those losses, and both ties, en route to the finals. The Lady Cavs beat the team they tied twice, Georgia Perimeter, in the region finals, then avenged one its losses to Brevard in the District Championship.
As for that other loss? That came against Tyler in the second game of the season, and Veilands felt like the final chapter of the Lady Cavs’ story of redemption was sure to be written.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “We’re driving home right now knowing we were the better team (Sunday). We just didn’t catch a break we needed after that call. We missed an open net one time and then there was that pass that turned into a goal for them. It’s frustrating.”
Polk, a Lee County native, almost played hero for the second straight game for Darton. She netted the equalizer in Darton’s semifinal match against No. 2 seed Scottsdale, Ariz., before Sashanna Campbell scored the game-winner in double overtime to propel the Lady Cavs to Sunday’s rematch with Tyler, which beat Darton, 4-1, back on Labor Day.
“This was our time. We did everything right, I felt,” Veilands said. “We put pressure on them, and we had our opportunities, but it just didn’t happen.”
Veilands said he pressed the refs for an explanation after the Lady Cavs’ goal was disallowed, but soon realized there was no changing their minds.
He also said he didn’t want the negative energy to hover over his team for the rest of the game, so he let it go for the moment and hoped it wouldn’t cost them in the end.
But it did.
“It was so early in the game, I didn’t want the girls to get down on themselves and develop a negative attitude, even though (we feel like we got robbed),” he said.
MEN CLOSE OUT STELLAR SEASON BY FINISHING THIRD IN NATION: The Darton men’s team tied Tyler, 1-1, on Sunday in the third-place game in Phoenix, ending its season with a 19-2-1 record after entering the national tournament as the No. 1 seed. It was the highest finish in Darton men's history.
But after Friday’s stunning 2-0 shutout defeat against Monroe, N.Y., in the semis, Darton was forced to settle for no better than third.
Cavs coach Bart Sasnett said it was important for his guys to go out and finish strong Sunday, even if third was the best they could hope for.
“We have a lot of pride in this program and the season we had, and it was important to close it out strong — not only for ourselves, but for out recruiting efforts,” Sasnett said. “We compete for top players with Tyler.”
Darton took 18 freshmen to nationals and just six sophomores, four of which were starters. The Cavs were also without leading scorer Diego Ramos for the entire tournament after he was injured in the region finals three weeks ago.
“I think the fact we did what we did without Diego says volumes about this group of young guys and the direction this program is headed,” Sasnett said.
Troy Tucker of Bermuda scored Darton’s lone goal Sunday in the second half to tie it after Tyler went up 1-0 early in the first half.