Hanover’s Anna Cornacchione (second from left) is surrounded by jubilant teammates Rebecca Tumlin (17), Rachel Alvis, Erin Hancock (19) and Elaine Simpson (8) after scoring her second goal in the HCAC championship on Saturday. Hanover rode the freshman’s two goals to a 2-1 win over Transylvania and an automatic NCAA soccer tournament berth. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Hanover’s Anna Cornacchione (second from left) is surrounded by jubilant teammates Rebecca Tumlin (17), Rachel Alvis, Erin Hancock (19) and Elaine Simpson (8) after scoring her second goal in the HCAC championship on Saturday. Hanover rode the freshman’s two goals to a 2-1 win over Transylvania and an automatic NCAA soccer tournament berth. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Hanover's top-ranked women's soccer team rolled into the NCAA Division III National Tournament on Saturday, thanks in large part to the efforts of freshman Anna Cornacchione.

Cornacchione, affectionately called "Nacho" by her teammates, scored two goals and took home Most Valuable Player honors in the Panthers' 2-1 win over Transylvania in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship.

Both of Cornacchione's goals were sights to behold, individual efforts that left opponents grasping at air and teammates jumping in air in celebration. It was the kind of performance that Hanover has come to expect from its star player.

"In the past I've missed plenty of breakaways so it was nice to actually finish one for once," said a smiling Cornacchione, who leads the team with 13 goals. "It was exhilarating."

Cornacchione's first goal came after 27 minutes of back-and-forth action between Hanover, the No. 1-ranked team in the Great Lakes Region, and fourth-ranked Transylvania.

The Pioneers (14-4-2) had the best chance to score early when they took three shots over a span of 15 seconds, all from within 15 feet 20 minutes into the game. The first was stopped by an alert Hanover defender while the other two were deflected by keeper Morgan Cole.

It was Transylvania's offensive attack that ironically led to Hanover's first goal. While the Pioneers were massed near the opposing goal, the Panthers were able to clear the ball and Cornacchione took possession near midfield.

The rest was all Cornacchione. The Cincinnati Turpin High School product spun away from one defender and then raced down the left side of the field. Another move cleared out another Pioneer defender and she then fired a shot that Transy keeper Jerrica Scovel (10-1-2) had no chance to stop.

Cornacchione's next goal came just after halftime in the 54th minute. After taking a cross pass from Rachel Alvis, Cornacchione spun around, beat her defender and then fired an off-balance laser from 30 yards out that curved into the upper right part of the net.

"Transylvania is not only one of the top teams in our conference but they're one of the top teams in the Great Lakes region. We knew it was going to be a good game," Hanover coach Jim Watts said. "I think we set the tone with the special goal early. Anna just had a terrific, terrific day. The game-winner was special."

Shortly after Cornacchione's second goal, Watts made a point to tell his team that the game was not over despite the 2-0 score. The Hanover coach was right.

Transylvania went on the attack and spent the final 35 minutes controlling the tempo. That play paid off when the Pioneers' Alyssa Kruse broke through in the 71st minute after taking a cross from teammate Carley Williams and heading the ball in from just six yards out.

The Pioneers had a few more chances after that but the Hanover defense tightened up and made the 2-1 lead hold up. Cole needed only four saves total to pick up her 13th win of the season (13-1-2).

"Our defense has always been kind of a bend but don't break defense," Watts said. "They came up big when they needed it."

Hanover outshot Transylvania 10-9, but Transy had a 5-4 advantage in shots on goal. The Pioneers also had eight corner kicks to just four by the Panthers.

Scovel stopped two shots in goal for Transylvania.

Because of the high rankings and strong schedules by both teams, it was likely that both would earn berths to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome on Saturday. But that didn't make the championship any less sweet for the Panthers.

"It's awesome. It hasn't hit me yet that we won," Cornacchione said. "But it feels nice."

The championship was the fourth for Hanover's women's teams during the fall season, as soccer joined tennis, golf and cross country as HCAC champions. The Panthers nearly pulled off a gender sweep but the volleyball team fell in the HCAC title game on Sunday.

Hanover has now won nine-straight games, has not been beaten in 15-straight matches and owns a 17-1-2 record overall - all school records. The Panthers' next match will be in the NCAA Division III Tournament starting this weekend. Pairings will be announced today.

Hanover will be making its second appearance in the tournament in the past three years and Watts stressed that the expectations this time around are different than before.

"Last time, we were all just happy to make the trip. This time, we've got a group of juniors and seniors that have NCAA postseason experience and I think we have the type of team that can not only be happy to be in the tournament, but really expect to win two games and move on into the middle of November."