Women’s Soccer Wins ECC Championship In Honor Of Fallen Teammate

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Katie Kokis. #6 in our hearts forever.
Katie Kokis. #6 in our hearts forever.

When Mercy’s womens soccer team took the field in 2014, they were looking to work hard, win games, and battle for a championship. They played well last season, qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history for the still young program. A tremendous feat for coach Jonathan Feinstein, Coach of the Year the previous year.The previous seasons celebration was short-lived. The players faced an obstacle in which they had to come together as a team to overcome.

They had lost a team member, and it left them devastated.

Little did they know how much it would bring them together.

***

The name on the jersey was enough in and of itself. “Mercy” was a name teams often didn’t fear when they saw it on their schedule.

“Easy win,” junior goalkeeper Nicole Augustine said in regards of how teams viewed them.

That all changed soon enough.

In the middle of their 2013 season, the team received news that had given them a fuel to their fire. Their teammate, Katie Kokis, had passed away.

Kokis was not with the team during preseason that year. She was fighting a different battle. A battle to get herself out of a hospital bed and back onto the field with her teammates to win a conference championship. Kokis was suffering from liver disease, which ultimately paralyzed her.

The disease became too powerful to overcome. But her dream was still alive and well.

Although Kokis was not there physically on the field, she played with them every game in their hearts, and a driving force behind their hard work every second of the game. They vowed to make it all come together for Katie.

Then, it clicked, the first round of their East Coast Conference Championships was a difficult match against Queens College. The win would send them in to their first ever East Coast Conference Championship final.

“Katie was looking out for us that day,” Augustine remembers.

The weather was not ideal with down pouring rain and was another obstacle to overcome. The game was back and forth with going into the second half down by one. Mercy came out on fire and scored right away, but not without Queens returning with another goal putting them back down by one again. Not getting themselves down, they bounced back wanting to shove the ball back into the back of the net. And sure enough it came. The game was now tied at two.

The blessing came not soon after the tying goal. Queens almost immediately came down the field and took a breakaway shot on Augustine, who made an excellent save only to have another Queens player boot the deflection into the back of the net.

The referee blew his whistle. The player who scored the goal was called off-sides, and the goal didn’t count.

In to extra sessions the game went, and finally in the 97th minute of play, Mercy netted a goal off of a deflection. They were going to the East Coast Conference Championship.

The tears in their eyes could not be unseen by anyone that day. They were making Katie’s dream come true.

The championship game would prove defeat for them along with their first NCAA appearance against Adelphi University, and just like that, their season came to an abrupt end.

But the team was not finished. Kokis’ dream was still alive throughout off-season and pre-season for the upcoming 2014 season. The team came in to pre-season that August ready to work and turn the dream in to a reality.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done as good in regular season as we did this year,” Augustine says.

The team went 14-2-1 overall throughout their season.

Jessica Carrillo led the team with nine goals at seasons end. Heidi Serna and Mackenzie Cochrane had six. Danielle Deeb scored six, as did Jessica DeLeon, who led the team with 12 assists.

The Mavericks locked up the No. 2 seed in the East Coast Conference Championship. This meant that they were going to host the semi final game at their home field. This time against Dowling College with a repeat setting of rain.

It was deja vu.

A back and forth grueling physical game, taking out senior forward, and stand out player, Abby Zielinski early on due to an injury. In the first half, a Dowling player broke through Mercy’s back line and scored. Again the referee blew his whistle and called the goal back on another off-sides call. Just another blessing.

Have mercy.

Finally in the 58th minute of the game, the Mavericks had worked the ball up the field and put it in the back of the goal to take the lead. They held on for the win, sending them into the East Coast Conference Championship again.

As for senior Abby Zielinski, she would have to watch from the sideline for this championship.

The championship game was set for the Mavericks playing against the team that had taken the ring off their fingers the year before. But this time, the Bridgeport Purple Knights were coming to their home field in Dobbs Ferry. The Mavs were ready.

Another chance for Katie’s dream to still become a reality.

As the game began, Bridgeport proved to be the more aggressive team, taking a shot just missing the top of the crossbar. Mercy remained composed taking smart shots and even better opportunities than Bridgeport.

But where was Zielinski? She was not able to be on the sideline cheering on her team.

“I was at the doctors getting my MRI because that’s the only time they could do it. I already knew I had r-etorn my ACL. I knew the feeling. But they hated me there that day. I was yelling at everyone working to get me through faster. I wanted to be with my team cheering them on.”

The second half started and the scoreless grudge match continued. It wasn’t until a foul on the Purple Knights gave Mercy a free kick opportunity at the top of the 18-yard box in the 68th minute of play, giving the team its best opportunity of the game.

Senior midfielder, MacKenzie Cochrane and junior forward, Jessica DeLeon set up to take the kick. Cochrane ran over the ball faking a kick in order to set up teammate DeLeon behind her. One of the Purple Knights impeded too early, earning herself a yellow card, and giving the Mavericks another free-kick opportunity.

This time the set up was reversed. DeLeon faked and Cochrane took the shot. Right over the goalie’s head and into the back of the net.

Cochrane jumped up and down screaming as her teammates swarmed to her, celebrating the 1-0 lead they had in the championship game.

“That was an out of body experience. It felt like something took over me. I’m just happy I came through at the time when my team really needed me to. Even if I missed, I knew they’d have my back and get it back for me,” Cochrane reminisced.

Zielinski got the news in the ride over back from the doctor. She finally got to the field cheering loudly as she entered.

Bridgeport came out with more gas after that goal, wanting to even the score. They were not going down without a fight. Augustine was in goal making breathtaking saves, refusing to give up the lead.

In an instant, Kokis’ dream became a reality, and the Mercy College Mavericks became the 2014 East Coast Conference Champions, and no one could steal this ring off their fingers now. The players are champions, and Katie earned a ring too.

It seemed almost unreal, they remember. The team stormed the field into one giant hug, jumping, screaming and celebrating with the crowd doing the same.

Zielinski got piggybacked over to be with her team..

“Being in this position today wouldn’t have been possible without Katie. She was with us the entire season and especially in that game,” Cochrane stated.

Cochrane was recognized as the Most Valuable Player of the game, and for good reason. But she, as well as the team, knew they could have never done it without each other.

“Holding up that trophy felt like a weird thing to be doing without Katie, but I know she was there with us. She never left. I’m proud we could finally make her dream come true,” Augustine says.

Mercy would go on to the NCAA playoffs making it to the Sweet 16, shattering the records they had made themselves the previous year. The team knocked off Bridgeport, 2-1, and fell to St. Rose in the next round.

Feinstein again was honored as being named the East Coast Conference Coach of the Year.

Augustine was recognized as an Daktronics All-American honorable mention after being in their first team All-East Regional team.

Zielinski was recognized by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Women’s Soccer Division 2 third team All-American. She even came back to play in her last college game ever against St. Rose in the Sweet 16. She had surgery, and is currently rehabbing her knee back to health.

The team kept their promise to themselves and to Katie. Win or lose, with or without the ECC title, the team was comprised of champions.

One player especially, #6.