November 7, 2011

Women's Soccer Makes NCAA Regionals

November 7, 2011 was a day of anticipation and excitement for the UCSC Women's Soccer Team and in the Athletic Office in general as they found out that their squad is advancing to the NCAA playoffs since their hiatus last season. After what was a disappointing season in 2010, going 1-13-2 after a history of making it to the playoffs every year since 2006, this year it was time to dust off the shock and embrace the goal that the 2011 squad achieved. 

The players sat down at the beginning of the season and made getting to the playoffs their team goal. And now, here they are. 

It wasn't an easy road, by any means. The team went from carrying 31 players to 20 players—with 7 new freshmen and one new senior. Only twelve returned to provide the squad with collegiate experience.  However, this new squad remained committed to their team goal. Building upon early morning fitness sessions and long beach workouts, hard work together and new freshman talent, the Slugs pulled themselves out of the wreckage of last season, embraced a positive competitive attitude, and fought to get to where they are today---with a seat in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Women's Soccer Championships.

Two key wins played a huge part in getting the Slugs onto the next round. The first was a 1-0 win at home versus Concordia Moorehead of Minnesota. Concordia is a team in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference who were ranked 24th in the national polls with a 9-1-5 record at the time when UCSC played them. A stellar second half goal from junior captain Brooke Atkinson put the Slugs up 1-0, 56 minutes into the run of play. UCSC was able to hold onto Brooke's game winning goal for the victory. The contest was a pretty even matchup in shots with UCSC outshooting Concordia 13-11 and posting more shots on goal with a 7-5 advantage. Concordia saw an advantage in corner kicks, securing 14 to UCSC's 6, but the UCSC defense could not be moved. 

This big win against a nationally ranked opponent had to boost the confidence of the Slugs—confidence they were going to need against a formidable Claremont-Mudd-Scripps squad whom the Slugs hadn't beat since a playoff win in 2006 that took a talented UCSC team onto the second round of the NCAA playoffs that year. History and statistics were stacked against the Slugs who had gone 0-7 to CMS since 2007, with losses in 2008 and 2009 keeping UCSC from going beyond the first NCAA round. This was a must-win- game for the Slugs, as their playoff destiny was in their own hands. A win may send them on; a loss would surely keep them out.

CMS came up to Santa Cruz on October 30th, so the Slugs had the advantage of playing at home on their own turf. The contest was a heated battle, with the visiting Athenas outshooting the Slugs 16-12 and obtaining a slight edge in corner kicks 5-4. However, UCSC weathered the storm and battled through the onslaught of one overtime period where CMS attempted 6 of their 16 shots in just a 10 minute window after pushing 4 forwards up top. Just as time seemed to be ticking off the clock in the second ten minutes of overtime, freshman outside left back Amanda Cameron picked up the ball for a UCSC throw-in and hurled it down the line and into the dribbling path of freshman forward Sara Sadler. Sadler drove to the line, slipping past her opponent in order to deliver a negative ball through the six-yard-box to awaiting freshman Jennifer Espinoza who calmly, in what seemed like a surreal series of events, slotted the ball home for the sudden death overtime goal. It was the first win for the Slugs vs. CMS in 4 years. Espinoza's goal at the 109:77 minute mark came after two opportunities that had careened off the woodwork earlier in the match, so it was fitting that she was able to coolly convert the game winner. The players stormed the field in celebration; the coaches were relieved.  The UCSC Freshman alongside their upperclassmen have ushered in a new era with that win and secured a trip to the NCAA Championship Playoffs.

The Slugs will travel down to Thousand Oaks this weekend, with west regional rival Cal Lutheran hosting the first round. Kickoff for the Slugs vs. Cal Lu is on Saturday November 12 at 7:30pm western time, under the lights of the new Rolland Stadium. The winner will advance to the next matchup on Sunday at 5pm and will take on the winner of the Concordia Moorehead / Puget Sound game which plays on Saturday at 5pm.