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Conn women are grateful for the opportunity to keep playing

New London — Senior Sarah Moore put things into perspective for her Connecticut College women's soccer team earlier this week.

During a team meeting on Monday after the Camels received an at-large berth to NCAA Division III tournament, Moore took her turn to speak to deliver a heart-felt message.

"I just told the team that this is a really good week to practice gratitude and feel lucky that we've gotten another week and we've gotten another game," Moore said after practice on Wednesday. "Moving forward, all we can do is be grateful for what we've been given."

Conn College (9-4-3) will make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017 and the program's fifth overall on Saturday, facing SUNY Geneseo at 3:30 p.m. in the first round in Scranton, Pa.

The Camels realize they're fortunate to be still playing.

A few tough losses put them in jeopardy of not qualifying for the NCAA tournament. A New England Small College Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal loss at Middlebury on Oct. 30 could have been their last time competing together this season.

Seniors Moore, Maegen Dillon, Marielle McEnaney and Emily Lorry would have never gotten a chance to play in an NCAA tournament during their careers.

Instead, they've enjoyed a fun week of practice and traveled to Scranton on Friday to prepare to play on the national stage.

That's something to be grateful for, as Moore pointed out.

"Her words in the team room the other day really hit home for a lot of us," coach Norm Riker said. "It was like, 'Hey, we have a great opportunity. We need to be grateful for it and appreciative for it.' ... Sarah's words really resonated with the team."

Moore and her fellow seniors appreciate that their soccer family will spend at least more one weekend together before taking off their cleats for the final time in college.

She thinks about her soccer journey every time she walks off the field.

"It means everything, especially to the seniors," Moore said of playing in the NCAA tourney. "Losing in the quarterfinals was not what we wanted to happen. I think going into the NESCAC tournament we thought we had a really good opportunity to make a good run. When that necessarily didn't go our way, we thought we were done. And now we're doing this rebirth, it's been amazing.

"We're really excited to hopefully go far in the national tournament."

Riker feels good about Conn College's bracket.

Geneseo (15-2-1) won the State University of New York Athletic Conference tournament championship by a 1-0 margin over Cortland to earn an automatic bid. It is the Knights' fourth straight NCAA trip.

The winner faces either host No. 18 Scranton (16-0-1) or Nazareth (10-6-3), which meet in Saturday's first game. The winners meet in the second round on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

Only Conn senior Kat Norton, who took a year off, has previous NCAA tournament experience, starting on the 2017 Conn team that lost to Wilkes College, 1-0, in the first round. Norton, an  All-NESCAC first team pick, is second on the team in scoring with nine points (three goals, three assists) this season.

"We're prepared to manage the game and we know how to manage the moment," Riker said. "Even though all these players are new to the national tournament, when you play NESCAC games, those butterflies on a Saturday morning, you're used to that. I think we match up well and we're excited for the opportunity. I think we have a good game plan."

g.keefe@theday.com

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