With nothing guaranteed, Saturday could be the final home game for the seniors on the Hardin-Simmons women’s soccer team.
It also could be the biggest game of the regular season.
As the No. 7/8 Cowgirls (10-1 overall, 7-0 conference) host Texas-Dallas for Senior Day at 5 p.m., the American Southwest Conference regular season title is on the line. UTD (13-0, 7-0) beat McMurry on Thursday to remain undefeated and in a tie with HSU at the top of the ASC standings.
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“A lot of times it’s easy to get caught focusing on the playoffs and the championship that you get tripped up early on,” senior midfielder Josey Meyer said. “I think we know how important each game now is and we focus on each week individually and not look too far ahead.”
Not resting on 2017
Though HSU was coming off a Final Four appearance, there was work to be done at the start of the season. The Cowgirls brought back experience, but had to find the right fit with new players stepping into big roles.
“The beginning of every season is always hard, new people learning how we’re going to fit together,” senior defender Sarah Krisa said. “So, it’s been a lot of fun just growing together, figuring it out together and getting better every single day.”
Early in the season the Cowgirls were challenged. They traveled to New York and fell to then-No. 7 William Smith 2-0. The first win came a day later in a 2-0 victory against Rochester followed by another 2-0 win at then-No. 12 Trinity.
How big is the difference in the team now compared to then? In a word from head coach Marcus Wood: “Massive.”
“We are a different team. We have an identity, we’re starting to know who we are, players are understanding how they influence the game,” Wood said. “You’re starting to see pieces come together. I think this is a team that can challenge for a championship, but we’re about to find out in the next two games.
“The next two games are championship-caliber games.”
That growth now has the Cowgirls ready to enter a two-game stretch against their toughest conference competition against UTD on Saturday and traveling Thursday to Belton to face Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“UTD is tied with us at the top, undefeated. That’s going to be a massive game on Saturday,” Wood said. “And then follow that with Mary Hardin-Baylor, who is the other team in title contention in this league. I think we’re ready to play that game. I think at the beginning of the year, we might not have been ready for that game.
“I think we’re now ready for that game.”
Each game is big
Part of the preparation and focus throughout the season for HSU is to not treat any one game bigger, or lesser, than another. The Cowgirls won’t have to refocus for these big games because they haven’t lost focus.
“It’s just a mindset we have, every game is really important,” Krisa said. “It’s a championship game, but every game you have to have that mindset.”
Wood saw that from his team during Thursday’s 4-1 win against Howard Payne.
Randie Dennison opened the scoring in the 9th minute off a Finda Kollie assist. From there, it was Kenne Kessler taking over scoring at the 36th and 58th minutes on skilled individual plays. Kessler capped her hat trick with a calm finish from the spot after Evan Pipkin drew the penalty in the box in the 63rd minute.
“We had a certain mentality the whole game,” Wood said. “Our speed of thought, our speed of play, our speed of technique was all outstanding (Thursday). I think we’re ready for the speed of a top, championship match and I think everyone is looking forward to a championship match on Saturday.”
Time for seniors
The top four seeds will host the ASC tournament quarterfinals Oct 30, all but guaranteeing the Cowgirls at least one more home contest after Saturday, but the regular season champion hosts the semifinals and championship Nov. 2 and 4.
Those are the ones HSU hopes continue to be at home.
“That’s what unites us, we’ve had such a strong senior class,” Meyer said. “We’re all playing for each other and we know how much each one of us wants to play as many more games as we can. I think it’s going to cause us to play our best games.”
The senior class, which includes Krisa, Meyer, Kessler, Pipkin, Casey Carrillo, Caitlin Chrisiansen and Lexie Krambler, has left a mark over their careers, but especially this season.
“I think the senior leaders can really take a lot of pride in how much they’ve helped these youngsters grow into big roles,” Wood said. “It wasn’t just the freshmen, it was the sophomores, as well, who really didn’t have a role last year. Now the freshmen and the sophomores are moving into big roles and doing a great job for the team. I think the senior leadership has to take a lot of pride in that.
“This is one of the best senior classes in our history. And we want to finish it off right for them and part of that is going to be getting it done on Saturday.”
Cowboys shock HPU
The HSU men’s soccer team is no stranger to playing in overtime this season, but some final-second brilliance made that unnecessary Thursday night.
The Cowboys (3-8-1, 3-4) broke a scoreless tie with 2 seconds left in regulation for a 1-0 win against Howard Payne. Frane Vidosevic played a long ball from just behind midfield with about 10 seconds left in the game.
Blaine Phariss ran the pass down and with one touch sent a rocket into the top right corner of the goal as time was running out.
After a rough start to the season, Thursday was the third-straight win for HSU. The Cowboys are host to conference-leader UTD on Saturday.