BENNINGTON — There is excitement in the air around Southern Vermont College, as the women's soccer team are preparing to host its first-ever home playoff game in school history today when they face Newbury College in the opening round of the New England Collegiate Conference tournament.
The Mountaineers finished the regular season at 10-6-1 and secured a home game as the third seed.
"I'm really excited. I mean you can't beat having a home playoff game," said SVC senior Abigail Rosas. "It was one of our goals at the start of the season to have a home playoff game and were all pretty pumped up about it."
SVC has done a complete 180 under head coach Michael Zauzig. Before Zauzig became the head coach for the Mountaineers in 2011, they were on a 70-match losing streak spanning six years, but now, Southern Vermont is known as an up-and-coming program.
In year one, SVC was 3-11 and improved to 11-5-2 in year two. For four straight seasons, Zauzig has led his Mountaineers to the postseason.
"Since I have been the coach here, we began to start focusing on all the facets of a student-athlete to help build a good program," Zauzig said. "We began focusing not just on wins or losses, but a lot on our players' grades, team bonding and just being great people on and off the field. That's what help make this program better and why we are where we are today."
Freshman Molly Madore leads the Mountaineers with 14 goals, while sophomore goalie Melissa Mascari has a goals against average of 1.29 goals per game — the third best in school history. On the other side, the defense has also only given up 23 goals all season, just over one per contest.
"The girls on this team are very competitive and determined," Zauzig said. "We want to meet the goals we set out for ourselves and get better everyday, not to mention we hold each other accountable for what we do on the field, which helps us play better on game day."
For sixth seed Newbury, the main focus is forward Shannon Walsh. Walsh has 12 goals this season, including a pair against Southern Vermont in the Mountaineers' 5-4 win in double overtime last month.
SVC's success this season is obvious, even to the outside observer. At practice on Monday, the players are focused and as frenetic as their coach.
That style has gotten the eyes of the rest of the college community.
"Everyone around campus is really excited about the home playoff game and we have people from everywhere coming to the game," Rosas said. "People keep talking about coming up to the hill to cheer us on and it's really awesome to see that were getting a lot of support for our success this season.
Even the senior captain's grandfather is flying in from California for today's contest, and will follow the team as long as they stay alive in the postseason.
"We have to be ready to go on Tuesday and go out their and take it," Zauzig importantly stated on Tuesday's playoff game. "If we can continue to play like we have been the last three weeks, I'm confident we will be in good position to win the game in the 80th minute."
Game time for the SVC-Newbury game is set for 2 p.m. today. Winner will advance to the second round of the NECC semi-finals, that will be held on Thursday.