“Surreal.” That is the only word that junior midfielder Kaeli Vandersluis could use
to describe her experience at the Conference USA tournament last week.
The Colorado College women’s soccer team entered the tournament as regular season conference champions. They embraced the pressure as they pulled away with three convincing wins to claim the first conference title in school history.
“We can’t even put in words how good it feels to win this tournament for the first time,” said junior forward Rachel Herron.
This was not the first time that the Tigers had entered the tournament as the first seed. After claiming the best regular season conference record, the Tigers entered last year’s conference tournament as the favorites. Under the pressure of high expectations, the team lost in the first round to Tulsa in a heartbreaking penalty shootout.
The Tigers met Tulsa once more in the first round of this year’s Conference USA tournament. As unlikely as it might seem, after two overtime periods, the game went into another shootout.
“I felt déjà vu because we lost conference last year to Tulsa on PKs, but I wanted redemption. We practiced for penalty kicks. We were ready. We stepped up and got the job done,” Herron said.
After sophomore goalkeeper Kate Scheele made an impressive save to stop Tulsa’s fourth shooter, Herron earned the redemption she wanted as she clinched the game 4-2 with a decisive strike. The win advanced the Tigers to the semifinal match on Friday against East Carolina University, where the women displayed one of their best performances of the year.
Five different players scored against ECU, a rare accomplishment that really showcases the overall quality and depth of the team. The Conference USA Midfielder of the year, Vandersluis, struck the first goal of the game while Sarah Schweiss, Alexis Long, Jessie Ayers, Katie Uyenishi, and Madison Whitehead all added to the dominating 5-0 win.
“Everything clicked. Our defense was so solid. A shutout is not something to be overlooked,” junior forward Jaclyn Silsby said. “We finally played to our potential.”
The theme of the tournament for the Tigers seemed to be the embrace of expectations. Only one win away from a championship, the women knew they could not let the pressure affect their play. These confident and composed Tigers embraced the moment.
They faced the University of North Texas in the championship where they cruised to a 3-0 victory with goals from Vandersluis, Silsby, and Ayers.
The Tigers’ convincing 3-0 victory over North Texas in the championship game of the Conference USA tournament secured them an appearance in the NCCA Tournament. Colorado College will host Duke University of the Atlantic Coast Conference at home on 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16.
“We are so proud of what we have accomplished this year, but we are excited to take on the next challenge,” Herron concluded.
Jack Burger, Guest Writer