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A Fall of Firsts

Jacob Heiston and the Eagles celebrate their upset of #5 Lynchburg
Jacob Heiston and the Eagles celebrate their upset of #5 Lynchburg

BRIDGEWATER, Va. – The 2018 fall season was a memorable one for Bridgewater, as multiple Eagle programs had milestone moments.

Women's soccer earned an NCAA at-large bid- the Eagles' first trip to the national tournament. They hosted the ODAC final four after earning the top regular season seed for the first time.

BC was also nationally-ranked for the first time, reaching as high as #18 in the polls. The BC campus hosted a matchup of two nationally-ranked soccer teams for the first time ever when #18 Bridgewater came from behind to tie #24 Lynchburg 2-2 on October 10.

"To be able to finish off my career coming to the NCAA tournament was great," said senior Bailey Kratz after BC's 1-0 loss to Hope in the national tournament. "All the support from the school and from friends and family has been amazing, and our goal is to come back again."

The Bridgewater Soccer Complex also hosted a men's soccer playoff game for the first time since 2005 as the Eagle men earned the third seed and defeated Ferrum 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

The Eagles upset #5 Lynchburg 2-0 in the regular season to earn that high seeding, and then did it again in the semifinals- holding on after Leo Alcantara's first half goal to defeat the 10th-ranked Hornets and advance to their first-ever conference championship game.

"I am really proud of the guys and the work they have put in to this program," said head coach Ryan Bennison. "Winning is a by-product of doing a lot of the little things right, and this team is a reflection of that. Advancing out of the first round for the second time ever, winning the semifinals against a nationally-ranked opponent, and then making the ODAC championship match for the first time in program history, is an outstanding accomplishment. We hope to continue to build off that momentum into our offseason and take another step forward as a program."

Despite 837 all-time wins and 14 appearances in the ODAC title game, the Bridgewater volleyball team has never had an All-American selection. That also changed this year with not one, but two Eagles earning a spot on the AVCA All-America squad.

Junior hitter Rachel Gaston was named the ODAC Player of the Year, and it was not surprising to see her selected as an Honorable Mention All-American after she ranked second in the conference in kills. Bridgewater had two names on the list however, as senior setter Victoria Wilson (1032 assists, .301 hitting percentage) was also selected to the All-America squad.

"It is a surreal feeling to have been named one of the first [together, with Rachel] volleyball program All-Americans at Bridgewater," said Wilson. "I find it admirable to be a story that girls can look back at and find inspiration in. Someone that can reaffirm that such accolades are a possibility with a constant, resilient mindset."

"It is validating to know that all the hard work I have put into this sport was not in vain," she continued. "Volleyball is a team effort and I could not have received any of the honors I have without the group of girls I played with. I will forever be grateful for having been given the opportunity to call such amazing women my teammates."

On the cross country course, Bridgewater had both ODAC individual champions for the first time in BC's history in the conference. Repeat ODAC Runner of the Year Jamie Hiegel dominated the field to win his second straight title by over 30 seconds. In the women's race, Calista Ariel pulled away from ODAC MVP Kaitlyn Johnson and out-kicked W&L's Samantha Yates to complete the double for BC. Both Eagle runners would also qualify for the NCAA national meet.

"It's truly surreal," said Ariel after the rain-soaked race. "I was very confident with the weather, we've been training to run tough so we saw the weather as a positive."

Bridgewater football saw its conference title hopes evaporate after a heartbreaking Week 6 loss at Randolph-Macon, a double-overtime defeat where the visitors held a lead in the fourth quarter or overtime on three separate occasions.

It was the last time BC would lose in 2018, as the Eagles ran off four straight to mark their first winning record since 2014. Ultimately, that double-overtime loss was the only thing separating Bridgewater from finally returning to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2005.

"From where we were a year ago at this time as a football organization, it was very difficult," said head coach Michael Clark. "Where we are at now is a completely different spot- we're positioned well."

Junior linebacker Re'Shaun Myers became the Eagles' first ODAC Player of the Year since 2012, and first State Player of the Year since 2014.

The only thing missing from a fall where Bridgewater's teams combined for a .668 winning percentage was an ODAC championship, something all the teams will believe they are capable of challenging for in 2019. BC's last fall title came from field hockey in 2015.

"I told the team- Randolph-Macon won a playoff game today [the Yellow Jackets upset #8 John Carroll in their NCAA first round matchup]- that's good for our conference. But could that have been us? That's not a choice you can just make next August," said Clark. "My hope is what we were able to do over these last few weeks here carries over- not something they just want to check a box and move on from, it's something they want to build on. Next year I want to be playing a meaningful game in November."

Hopefully multiple fall teams will be playing big games in November 2019. "This experience is going to pay huge dividends for us moving forward for years to come," said women's soccer head coach Mike Van Horn. "This will just light the fire under them even more. The future is bright, the girls will be hungry, and I expect us to be back here next year."