Heartland women’s soccer achieves perfection to win the program's first national title
The women's soccer team at Heartland Community College has claimed the program's first national championship.
The Hawks finished a perfect 20-0 season under first-year coach Norman Ramos with a win over Pima Community College (PCC) on penalty kicks in the championship game of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II tournament in Wichita, Kansas, on Saturday.
The Hawks outscored their opponents 100-9 this season.
Sophomore goalkeeper Bekah Nielsen, a Normal West graduate, said winning the national title is just starting to sink in.
“It’s such a crazy moment. I’m still thinking about it that we are national champions,” Nielsen said. “It’s just unreal.”
Nielsen said she came back to Heartland for another semester for a chance to win the title after reaching the semifinals in the spring.
“We wanted it more this year because we knew how it was very heartbreaking last year, losing in double overtime. It was a very sad moment.”
Ramos, who was an assistant coach on last year’s national semifinalist team, said the team's sense of togetherness and desire to play for each other made them so successful.
“Everywhere we go, these girls make an impact,” Ramos said. “When we are you to dinner, every other girl on every other team is like, ‘I want to be on that team.’”
Ramos dedicated the championship to his predecessor, Jovany Macias, who coached Heartland men’s and women’s teams as Ramos does now. Ramos served as an assistant under Macias for two seasons.
“Nobody would be here without Jovany Macias,” Ramos said.
The national championship punctuates a year that was filled with uncertainty and struggle for Ramos. Not only did the coronavirus pandemic push the fall 2020 soccer season to the following spring, Ramos spent much of the year recovering from a bicycle accident along Constitution Trail last October.
“It changed my life. I broke my back, I broke my ribs, I broke my collarbone and it broke me spiritually,” he recalled. Ramos said all the support he’s received from the student athletes kept him on the road to recovery.
“They are the reason that I fight and I keep going, seeing them, and seeing them win and laugh and pick the trophy up,” Ramos said. “What is important is them.”
The championship game came down to penalty kicks after Heartland and PCC played to a 2-2 draw. Nielsen said she felt comfortable handling the pressure of minding the net for penalty kicks because of how much the team practices PKs during the season.
“I understand the season was on the line, but when it came to PKs we were very confident that we would win,” Nielsen said, noting her teammates also made the win possible by converting on their penalty kicks.
Nielsen plans to graduate in December. From there, she wants to change her major from agriculture to sports management as she explores a school to get a bachelor’s degree. She said she wants to stay involved in soccer, either as a player, coach or volunteer.
Heartland saw a record five teams advance to the national finals this week; men's and women's soccer, men's and women's cross country and women's volleyball.