Northeastern's Jenny Sinclair (Courtesy Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics)

Title time in women's soccer: NCAA bids on the line for Saint Joseph's, Northeastern

Late last month the Saint Joseph’s women’s soccer won it's first regular-season title in the Atlantic 10 Conference under veteran head coach Jess Mannella.

“It only took 14 years,” said Mannella, with a laugh.

Around the same time Northeastern captured the regular-season title in the Colonial Athletic Association under Ashley Phillips, in her first season as the head coach for the Huskies. She was an associate under head coach Tracey Leone, who resigned earlier this year when her husband Ray was named the head women’s coach at the University of Maryland.

“I definitely can’t take all of the credit for it. The program was in a great place when she decided to step down. Obviously it is really exciting as a first-year coach,” said Phillips, a former goalie at Clemson.

Both Saint Joseph’s and Northeastern will be the No. 1 seeds when their respective conferences decide the tournament champion this coming weekend. The title matches of the Atlantic 10 and CAA will be televised Sunday on ASN and the winners gain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Hawks (16-1-2, 9-0-1 in the conference) will face No. 8 seed and host Rhode Island (6-7-5) on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the first day of the eight-team, three-round event. The title game for the Atlantic 10 will be noon Sunday at URI in Kingston. With a win Thursday the Hawks would play Friday in the semifinals against the winner of George Mason and Fordham.

“It has been pretty amazing with all of the support from the alumni and administration,” Mannella, in her 15th season, said of the regular-season title. “I keep getting texts from alums on how proud they are. I think they feel a part of it. It is really nice to hear from the people who played here.”

Saint Joseph’s won 3-2 at Rhode Island on October 6 in regular-season play.

“They are a very good team. We know it is going to be a tough matchup,” Mannella said. “I don’t think we will change anything. We focus on our strengths and what we need to do.”

Northeastern (12-6-1) will host No. 5 seed William & Mary (10-7-2) on Friday at 5:30 p.m. With a win the Huskies would advance to the title game on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Parsons Field in Brookline.

It was on Oct. 7 that Northeastern trailed at home 2-0 at halftime against the Tribe before coming back to win 3-2 in overtime.

“Sometimes we show up in one half and not the other,” said Jenny Sinclair, a senior defender for Northeastern. “Luckily it was the second half. We were all unhappy about how the first half went.”

The Huskies, with 11 seniors, won seven of their last eight under Phillips.

“She is a very direct coach. She will tell you how it is,” said Sinclair, who grew up near Richmond, Va. “She came in and laid in the foundation she wanted to create. Everyone bought it.”

Northeastern is led in scoring by sophomore Hannah Rosenblatt, who has 11 goals and four assists after she had just one goal in 2015.

“Hannah is one of those kids who has worked hard every day. She really seized that opportunity,” Phillips said.

The Huskies goalie is sophomore Nathalie Nidetch, who has played all but 48:40 this year.

Saint Joseph’s has prevailed after sophomore goalie Grace Bendon was hurt playing this summer but the injury was not diagnosed until August, when she had surgery.

She was expected to redshirt and miss the rest of the season but returned to play Oct. 16 in a 3-2 win over Duquesne.

Bendon took over for freshman Cameron Perrott, who started the first 15 games and allowed just 20 goals.

“Who changes their goalies when they are 12-1-2? We did not take this decision lightly,” Mannella said.

The Hawks are led in scoring by sophomore forward Dakota Mills (16 goals, five assists) and senior midfielder Emily Gingrich, who has 11 goals.

“Emily has been one of the best players in the league the last four years,” Mannella said.

Duquesne, the No. 7 seed last year, is the defending champion in the Atlantic 10 while fourth-seeded JMU won the CAA crown in 2015.

Saint Joseph’s and Northeastern can only hope the favorites fare better this year.

“We would always think we are the underdog,” Hawks coach Mannella said.

The Huskies get the added bonus of playing at hime.

“It is amazing to be able to host,” said Sinclair, the Northeastern senior. “It is awesome to be on the home field we are used to.”

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