By Joe Scalzo
A year after going winless in conference games, the Youngstown State women’s soccer team learned what it takes to get into the Horizon League tournament.
The next step? Learning how to win it.
Making their first appearance in the conference tournament in four years, the fourth-seeded Penguins fell to fifth-seeded Wright State, 1-0, in overtime Tuesday night at Stambaugh Stadium.
Raiders senior forward Emilie Fillion scored the game-winner 2:55 into the first overtime period. It came off a deflection from YSU freshman Jackie Podolsky, who had stopped a hard shot from Adrianna Guerrero.
“It was unlucky,” said YSU sophomore Jade Flory. “It took a bad skip and the girl was there and she followed.”
Podolsky, a Canfield High graduate who walked on this season after attending Mount Union last year, had six saves while Wright State keeper Brooke McClurdy had three. The Raiders (8-4-6) out-shot YSU 16-9.
The loss ended the best season in YSU history. The Penguins (8-9) set a school record for wins — even after they were forced to forfeit a victory over Cleveland State for using an ineligible player — despite using seven first-year players, “which is absurd,” said YSU coach Will Lemke.
“To get in [the tournament] and ... learn to play on this level is a good thing for our young players,” Lemke said. “I’m really proud of how they handled it.
“Now that they have a taste of it, they can take it up another level.”
YSU played in its first league tournament game since 2008, the last year that every conference team participated. The Penguins beat three of the top four seeds during the regular season, including top-seeded Milwaukee, and were coming off an overtime win over Wright State three days earlier that qualified them for the postseason.
“Now the expectations are way higher,” Lemke said. “Everyone is expecting to come back and legitimately go and win the conference championship next year.”
The Penguins lose just two seniors and only one, defender Katie Peterlin, is a starter. Nine of their 11 starters on Tuesday night were either freshmen or sophomores.
“We’ve taken a huge step in the right direction from where we were last year,” said Flory, the first YSU player to earn first team all-conference honors since 2006. “I don’t think we even won a conference game last year [and now we’re] beating the No. 1 team in the conference and holding our own against everybody else.
“From where Katie and [senior Brittany Hayes] came in, they said they were just hoping to be .500. Now we don’t want to just settle on making it to .500 or being average. We want to be the best now.”