Shootout! Women’s soccer wins conference title at home


Ohana Sarvotham

Kate Nakamura `26 handles the ball in the Midwest Conference Tournament. Grinnell hosted the tournament and qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time since 2006.

Jane Hoffman, Staff Writer

On a bulletin board outside of their locker room, three words: “win host win” serve as aspiration, inspiration and, as of this weekend, a reality for the Grinnell Women’s soccer team.

“Win host win,” which refers to winning the Midwest Conference (MWC) Championship title, then hosting and winning the ensuing conference tournament, was something seniors Antarah Chopra `23 and Elinor Arneson `23 had been hearing since their freshman years at Grinnell. Chopra said it had always felt like more of a slogan than something attainable. This season, things changed.

This season, during which Grinnell established a win-loss-tie record of 11-2-5, felt like a switch from “‘Oh, this is fun,’ to ‘oh, we’re actually doing really well,’” said Arneson.

Reflecting on the season before the tournament, Co-Captain Chopra `23 said that the team’s October victory over Beloit College, the 2021 Conference Champions, was a “huge momentum shift” for the team. “It started to feel like, oh, we can actually do this. We have the potential to take it all the way, and we’ve just been building off that since,” said Chopra.

The team secured this year’s conference champion title on Oct. 29 after beating Lake Forest College in their final regular season game. The MWC Champion title is awarded to the school that has accumulated the most points during the regular season, which Grinnell had not received since 2006. With the title came the hosting rights for the Midwest Conference Women’s Soccer Tournament, which occurred on Saturday, Nov. 5 and Sunday, Nov. 6.

At the semifinals on Saturday, first-seeded Grinnell faced off against fourth-seeded Cornell College, while Lake Forest and Beloit (seeded second and third, respectively) competed against each other.

Pushing through the spitting rain, and cheered on by dedicated supporters huddled beneath umbrellas, Grinnell secured a 2-1 win against Cornell.

Assisted by Jillian Paladino `23, Tali Berk `24 scored just six minutes after kickoff, ensuring a lead that lasted until Cornell tied the team with a goal at the 65th minute. In the 78th minute, Keiko Smith `25, assisted by Reese Komsthoeft `25, shot the ball through the Cornell goalkeeper’s hands, securing Grinnell’s place in the final.

At Saturday’s second game, Beloit College beat Lake Forest College 1-0, advancing to play against Grinnell for the tournament title on Sunday.

Under a brighter Sunday sky, students, family members and supporters wrapped around the perimeter of Springer Field lawn, lining the bleachers and roaring with frequent delight, occasional disapproval and cheers of support for the players as they fought for control of the ball.

Despite heated gameplay, and 11 shots from Beloit and 8 from Grinnell, neither scored a goal in regulation time nor in the double overtime period that ensued.

As the sun slipped behind a bank of clouds, the game advanced to a suspense-ridden penalty shootout with Arneson in goal.

Ultimately, 4 goals from Chopra, Maddie Beltramo `25, Berk and Alison Wehrman `24 secured the 4-2 win for Grinnell.

As Wehrman slotted the ball into the goal, pushing Grinnell across the threshold for victory, the crowd erupted and students crashed onto the field, embracing players and one another as “We are the Champions” blared from the speakers.

“I knew we could do it, but I’m just in shock. I love this team so much,” said forward Tori Thomas `25 while the music shifted to “Cotton Eyed Joe” and the team broke into a line dance.

The team’s impressive season has felt “surreal,” Chopra said, and has brought the team closer to alumni players who have reached out with messages of support and have watched their games over the course of the season. “We’re doing it for them, too,” Chopra said.

“Our freshman year, our captain said, ‘win host win, I want to get on a plane,’ because that means we would be going to the national tournament,” said Chopra.

Three years after Chopra heard this as a freshman, the team will begin their NCAA Division III Tournament journey by competing against Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa in the coming weeks. This year marks only the fifth time in the team’s history, and the first time since 2006, that Grinnell has qualified for the NCAA Division III Tournament.