SAINT LEO, Fla. - Just over 10 minutes away from capturing the program's first-ever Sunshine State Conference Tournament championship, No. 20 Nova Southeastern had the title wrestled away late as Saint Leo notched a pair of goals down the stretch to hand the Sharks a gut-wrenching 2-1 defeat Sunday at University Field.
Nichole Poppe put the Sharks in front midway through the second half on her third goal of the season, but Victoria Covas' game-winner in the 85th minute proved to be the difference for the top-seeded Lions, who earned their first league championship since 2011.
The loss drops Nova Southeastern to 12-3-3 on the year, but will still be in the mix to host the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced Monday at 6 p.m. ET on NCAA.com.
Following a scoreless first half in which the Sharks held a slim 6-5 advantage in the shot department, Nova Southeastern ramped up the energy, especially on the offensive end. Poppe nearly put the Sharks on the board in the 60th minute on a right-footed rip from the edge of the box, but her attempt sailed just high over the crossbar. Minutes later, Hannah Christophe broke loose behind the Saint Leo backline for a one-on-one chance with Lions' keeper Megan Charlton. With a tough angle, however, Christophe's shot towards the corner of the net was able to be poked away to keep the contest knotted at 0-0.
After banging on the door a few times, though, Nova Southeastern's relentless pressure finally paid off just seconds after Christophe's near score. With possession of the ball in the 64th minute, Poppe took a few dribbles left and drilled a well-placed shot out of Charlton's reach for the go-ahead goal. The score marked the first for the Sharks against Saint Leo in 153:58 minutes of action this season.
The Sharks appeared to be control and could sense the history in the making, but unfortunately the Lions had other ideas. Pressing forward on offense, Saint Leo's Selena Jaimes sent a shot on frame in the 82nd minute. Nova Southeastern keeper Ida Norstrom was able to punch the ball out of danger for the moment, but the attempted clearance fell directly to Genevieve Gignac, who then sent the rebound in for the equalizer.
As if the first goal already didn't hurt enough, Saint Leo added salt to the wound with only five minutes remaining in regulation. Awarded a free kick, Jaimes linked up with Katie Waddell, who headed the ball to Covas for the clean look at the championship-clinching goal.
Poppe, Norstrom, Emma Heikkila and Emma Santamaki were each named to the all-tournament team immediately following the match.
To stay up to date with the NSU's postseason fate follow the Sharks on twitter @NSU_WSoccer or log onto NSUSharks.com.