MELBOURNE, Fla. — After playing in three penalty-kick tiebreakers in their first three games of the NJCAA national tournament, the end came much too suddenly for the Darton women’s soccer team.
Too suddenly and too painful.
After all three Pool D teams split penalty-kick games with each other this week, Darton, Butler (Kan.) Community College and Owens (Ohio) Community College faced off in a three-way tiebreaker Thursday for a spot in the national semifinals.
The Lady Cavs bested Owens in the first mini-game tiebreaker with a 3-1 win in penalty kicks, but then Butler ended Darton’s season 7:33 into their tiebreaking mini-game with a golden goal in the sudden-death playoff.
“That was just too much anxiety for 18- and 19-year-olds to deal with in a span of two days,” Darton coach Ken Veilands said. “The kids had to go through a whole extra game and penalty kicks, and then had to turn around and try to win another game.”
A team that withstood devastating injuries to post a 20-1 regular-season record and No. 4 national seed finally saw its run come to an end — but it’s a season Veilands said won’t be defined by the wild week of tiebreakers and penalty kicks in Melbourne, Fla.
“At the end of the day, for this team to be 21-2 with the two injuries we suffered and the amount of freshmen we had, that’s pretty impressive,” said Veilands, eluding to season-ending injuries to star players Stephanie Anes and Brittanie Hensley. “Not winning the tournament and not being in the finals certainly doesn’t diminish that.”
Darton beat Owens in penalty kicks in the national tournament opener on Monday but then lost to Butler on Wednesday in penalty kicks. And because of Owens’ win against Butler in penalty kicks on Tuesday, the three teams came back Thursday for a mini-game with 10-minute halves to decide the Pool D winner.
When Darton and Owens were tied at 0-0 after 20 minutes, they entered the familiar scenario of penalty kicks — except this time Lady Cavs backup goalkeeper Tori Danchak stood in the goal in place of starter Hong Tran.
“Tori had studied video of Owens taking PKs and was ready for it,” Veilands said. “And Hong was completely on board with the decision. Those are the things you see that make you happy and what you remember.”
Danchak was dominant in the goal, lifting the Lady Cavs into the mini-game against Butler — the final obstacle between Darton and a spot in the semifinals.
However, Butler’s Brittany Lawrence beat Tran with a low shot into the right corner of the net, ending the game in the first 10 minutes.
“There was a major breakdown in the back and that cost us the goal,” Veilands said. “The kids went through so much in such a short period of time leading up to that goal, and there for a moment we got bent out of shape. But one of the girls said, ‘This is how it ends. There’s no one to blame. This is just how it ended.’ ”
For Veilands, the shot might have also ended what has turned into a legendary coaching career. The architect of the Darton soccer program, who became the all-time winningest junior-college coach in Georgia history this season, has hinted about retirement in recent months. On Thursday, he said he needed some time before making any decision about his future with the Lady Cavs.
“I am going to evaluate the situation and evaluate where I am headed and where the school might be headed,” said Veilands, referring to indications that Darton might consolidate with other area universities. “Right now I just don’t know. It’s too easy to just say I am tired, because I am. I need some time to take a break and reflect. I do have to think long and hard.”