Lady Bears soccer bring home championship title


Photo courtesy of NJCAA

Brookhaven Lady Bears soccer team celebrates their win at the NCJAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament. The Lady Bears worked hard to bring home the title after a loss the previous year.

Alejandro Contreras, Staff Writer/Photographer

For the third time in less than four years, the Brookhaven Lady Bears soccer team has won another championship ring. They were victorious in the 2021 NJCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament by defeating No. 1 nationally ranked Delta College in an intense 2-1 game Nov. 14 in Batavia, NY. 

The Lady Bears, led by sophomore captains Adriana Padilla, Italia Avila and Lilee “Pop-It” Simpson, went into the tournament with a 16-game winning streak. After falling short in 2020, the team was seeking vengeance at the national championship. 

Their final opponent, Delta College, went into the final with a 30-game winning streak. 

Robert Williams, assistant coach, said the team had revenge on their minds all season. “So that was the driving factor all the way to the final, but to avenge our loss was just amazing,” he said. “Words just can’t describe it.” 

Padilla said: “It wasn’t intimidating because we knew they were a great team. But we knew that we could play to their level, probably even better. We were both incredible teams, but I feel hard work beats talent. They came in thinking they were going to win, but we came in with revenge.”

The final was not Delta and Brookhaven’s first rodeo. They have faced each other for three years straight in the national championship finals. In 2019, Brookhaven defeated them 2-0. In 2020, Brookhaven lost 4-1. In this year’s face-off, Brookhaven took it all, winning 2-1. 

“Even before the game, I was just crying with emotion,” Williams said. “So to be able to win that, this had to be the hardest one we’ve had to win.”

The victory would not have been within reach if it was not for the determination of the players. The Brookhaven team earned first place in four NJCAA statistics categories in Most Shots on Goal (510), Shots Per Game (26), Assists (117) and Shutouts (12).  

“I cried of happiness because it just took so much sacrifice,” Avila said. “Waking up early when I didn’t want to go to practice. All my commitment, it just took so much hard work and everything that I was going through. I had to balance my work life, my social life, my school life and my soccer life. Now it’s just my hard work paying off in the end.”

The Lady Bears faced a minor setback when starting center back Cynthia Lopez broke her ankle in their semifinal win 3-1 against Mohawk Valley Community College. This led the coaches to a contingency plan.

“We made a decision midway through the season that if we happen to go down a player, especially as a center back, we had to figure out who would be the best option there,” Williams said. “Simpson is such a great leader on the field that we had started, in some conference games, putting her as a center back so she could get used to it.–”

Due to Simpson’s performance, she won Most Valuable Defensive Player of the tournament. 

Simpson said her job was to shut down Delta’s offensive MVP of last year, Faith Webber. “I did just that,” she said. “I shut her down. She did not score any goals, and basically every game she would normally score at least one goal.”

Losing last year’s national championship increased the demand for victory. Williams said as a coach in one of the top programs in the country, there are high expectations for the program and the players. “There was a lot of pressure to keep our streak going and winning, but you know, pressure makes diamonds,” Williams said.

The team consisted of 16 freshmen and 13 sophomores. The freshmen who are now sophomores were encouraged to stay another year. “We had unfinished business,” Simpson said. “We made it all the way to the championship last year and it didn’t go our way. So, we came back, and we were fired up. We just wanted to go back and get revenge. We have a great group of girls. Most of us were staying but we lost five sophomores. So, we had a lot of young talent that was motivated to get back.” 

Together the Brookhaven team took initiative and left their hearts on the pitch.

Padilla said while the majority of the starting line-up were sophomores, the freshmen players coming off the bench were ready to play. “It was crazy, but they understood the tactics, and they understood what their role was,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of that.”

Avila said the younger players did great. “They worked hard, and I think we had a lot of impact in the way they played because we knew how it was our freshman year,” she said. “We just motivated them and told them how much we wanted it and I feel that made them want it even more.” 

The Lady Bears’ hard work and determination led them to a victory and memories that will last forever. “The final buzzer went off and I dropped to my knees and started crying,” Simpson said. “It’s just that feeling of accomplishment and a lot of the other girls started crying. We all just ran to our families to hug them.”

Every year the Brookhaven team needs new additions to get back in the next national championship final. “If you want to come in, we’re a very serious program,” Williams said. “We are the No. 1 Division III [Junior College] in the country, but we have high expectations.” 

He said players interested in joining the team must be ready to work hard in order to survive. “Playing time is not guaranteed, but you have to be willing to beat out the person next to you,” Williams said. “Just come in and be prepared to work hard and nothing’s a guarantee. But if you work hard, then we have an extremely good chance to get back to the national tournament.”