Practice, gut feeling pays off for Hofstra after freshman Wilson saves season
Heading into their first round NCAA tournament game against Georgetown this past Saturday, six of the 19 games this season went into overtime. Three went to double overtime, two went one overtime session and one had to be decided by penalty kicks. In total, the Pride played nearly 1,956 minutes of soccer leading up to their match against the Hoyas.
So Saturday’s overtime game was nothing new except winning meant advancing while losing meant the end of the season.
Luckily for Hofstra, they knocked off Georgetown in PK, 4-2. But the victory came in part from an unlikely source: redshirt freshman and back-up goalkeeper Ashley Wilson.
A year and a half ago Wilson was in a very different place to say the least. The Long Island native was in Starkville, Miss., as a true freshman.
“When I was younger I thought I always wanted to go away to school; go to a big school that really focused on athletics,” Wilson said. “Mississippi State reached out to me (in part) because the assistant coach of my club team got an assistant’s job at MSU.”
Wilson both embraced and adored being in Starkville.
“I fell in love with the school during my unofficial visit,” Wilson said. “I really got used to living there. Sure, it was completely different from Long Island but it worked. I had a lot of great friends there too.”
Wilson didn’t play at all her freshman year but that wasn’t the reason she left Starkville.
“The soccer style (at Mississippi State) is completely different than what I’m used to,” Wilson said. “I was more used to a European, British style; pass and move (as opposed to) kick and run which is what they (did at Mississippi State). It just didn't click with me.”
The irony that Wilson ended up at Hofstra is so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
“My club team practiced at Hofstra all the time,” Wilson said. “I always overlooked it (when deciding on what college to attend) even though they had a great program. I never thought Hofstra, the school 20 minutes down the road, would be the school I would see myself going to because I was there all the time. Turned out to be the perfect school for me.”
Prior to Saturday game against Georgetown, Wilson was on the field for a grand total of 15 of the 1,956 total minutes the Pride played this year. She made a cameo at the 74:50 mark during Hofstra’s Sept. 20 game against Fordham.
All that down time on the bench didn’t go to waste though. Throughout the season, Wilson analyzed different scenarios that played out on the field. She’d watch free kicks and see where she would line up her three defenders. During penalty kicks, Wilson would observe the kicker’s body to see what direction it was moving before the kick. While corner kicks took place, Wilson would look for a player swinging out as well as how many people were in the box.
“That way if I did get called on, I’d know what was going on and what I should look for,” she said.
Constantly paying attention along with practice proved to be invaluable for Wilson in the biggest game of Hofstra’s season.
“When the second overtime (against Georgetown) started, (assistant) coach Courtney (Breen) came up to me and said ‘Let’s warm up; you are going in for penalty kicks.’”
In preparation for the Colonial Athletic Association and NCAA tournament games both Wilson and starting goalkeeper Friederike Mehring spent two weeks practicing penalty kicks. The coaching staff knew that a tournament game could come down to PKs. Mehring wasn’t injured; the coaches just decided to put Wilson in instead even though she hadn’t seen the field since mid-September.
“It was a great feeling getting called into a situation like that,” Wilson said. “It shows the coaches have a ton of confidence in me that I’d could go out there and do what I can do. It was awesome to get that opportunity.”
Both Wilson and Georgetown goalkeeper Emma Newins were beaten in the first two rounds of the penalty kicks. With the score tied at 2-2, Wilson eye-balled the Hoyas next kicker Grace Damaska.
“I read her body and went with my gut where she was going. It was the right way. I got just enough on it to tip (the ball) onto the post and out.”
Wilson’s save shifted the momentum to Hofstra. The Pride scored twice more while Georgetown’s Leah McCullough didn't get her shot on net.
“It didn't hit me until after we arrive back on campus that we advanced to the second round,” Wilson said.
Hofstra’s opponent Friday is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights defeated Hofstra 1-0 back on Aug. 23.
Above: Hofstra backup goalkeeper Ashley Wilson makes the save that allowed the Pride to advance in the NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy Hofstra Athletics)
Middle: Hofstra celebrates after winning in penalty kicks, 4-2, to advance in the NCAA tournament. (Courtesy Hofstra Athletics)