By Alex Neupert, sports editor
One goal. That was all Quincy University needed to end the historic season for the University of Missouri—St. Louis. UMSL’s women’s soccer team played the Hawks on November 13 in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Division II Women’s National Championship, the first time the Tritons had been to the tournament since 1983. While the quick exit is disappointing, ultimately the 2015 season for UMSL will not be known for how it ended, but for how hard the group of women worked to get to this point.
To put everything in perspective, the Tritons finished last year with an 8-8-1 record, managing a lackluster 6-8-1 in Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) play. Head Coach Wendy Dillinger managed to turn it around in only her second year leading the team, coaching the Triton women to an impressive 12-5-4 (8-3-4) record, including an eight-game win streak.
“Once Wendy came to UMSL as our coach, it was a reality check for many of us,” said Jaylon Griffith, senior, business marketing. “We were forced to work harder, compete, and change our attitudes to not only each other but ourselves.”
Despite a late-season slide where UMSL went winless in the final four games—two losses and two ties—they were able to regroup for the GLVC postseason tournament after missing the competition the last three years.
“There was a span of time when we started to lose ourselves,” explained Cassie McFadden, senior, nursing. “We felt like we had to rediscover the heartbeat of our team, but despite the struggle, we found what we were searching for in time for postseason.”
Coming in as the fourth seed, the Tritons were quickly forced to show they belonged while hosting the first round of the tournament. Drury University scored the first goal early in the half before UMSL countered and forced the game into overtime, winning off a shot from Miriam Taylor, junior, accounting. Amidst the home crowd, UMSL was elated and celebrated the hard-fought victory, but also knew that an even greater challenge loomed ahead.
For the semifinals, the women faced top-seeded Bellarmine University on their home field. After tying them in the regular season, the Tritons set their eyes on the prize: getting to the championship. Pressure was the key for the win as they scored first before the Knights tied it up. With only 20 minutes remaining, McFadden blasted the ball from 40 yards out to just get the ball over the opposing goalkeeper. On her game-winner, she said, “There’s no better feeling. It’s a special kind of high that can’t ever be replicated.”
In the championship game against Truman State, UMSL was never really able to get something going. While the Tritons outshot their foes 14-4, the Bulldogs took more advantage of their opportunities, scoring on both shots on goal to win the championship 2-0. The first round of the NCAA tournament was similar in that the women once again put more shots on goal than their opponent but were unable to get the ball by the goalkeeper. Quincy’s Megan Swanson was always where she needed to be to stop the attempts, and their first-half goal was enough to advance.
Despite the losses, however, the Tritons were happy on their successes during the 2015 season. “It’s truly a dream come true to compete in both tournaments,” said McFadden, “something that you dream about doing when entering college.”
“It feels great to be able to be a part of the first team that has gotten a bid to the national tournament since 1983,” added McKayla Harder, freshman, psychology. “It’s an awesome feeling to be a part of making history here and taking the program to a new level that it hasn’t seen in a very long time.”
The forward is certainly a part of that future, one of the team’s top scorers with 10 goals on the season. Collectively, UMSL more than doubled their opponents, scoring 50 goals compared to just 18. The Tritons averaged 2.38 goals a game and also managed 18.8 shots per game. Overall, the women were very aggressive throughout the season with the ball and enjoyed being the ones on the attack.
The postseason is over for the UMSL Tritons. For 11 seniors, their time as soccer players for our school is over as well. But it hasn’t come without many amazing memories for a historic women’s soccer season. “It’s been amazing playing with these girls,” said Griffith. “They’ve become my best friends, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
For UMSL, we would not either.