After tying the second highest win total in school history, the Centre women’s soccer team is preparing for its second ever NCAA Tournament appearance on Saturday, when the Colonels will take on Roanoke College on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
The Colonels are currently 14-4-2 overall and placed third in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference with a 5-2-1 record. Centre played some of its best soccer when it mattered most, going 4-0-2 over its last six regular season games, and stretching a streak of six straight shutouts into the inaugural SCAC Tournament. The Colonels won in dramatic fashion in the tournament, getting a late game winner from Kelsey Boling ’12 to beat Sewanee 1-0 in the quarterfinals and a double overtime goal by Aubrey Holle ’12 to beat Birmingham-Southern 1-0 in the semifinals before falling to Trinity, ranked fourth in the nation, in the championship.
“The SCAC Tournament was special for everybody,” said head coach Jay Hoffman. “We certainly had all the emotions one could have. We had the excitement of the unbelievable finish by Aubrey, and then we also had the letdown and disappointment of not winning against Trinity. All that preparation has put us right now where we need to be, and that’s training and getting ready for the NCAA Tournament.”
The NCAA appearance will be Centre’s second after the Colonels qualified and lost in the first round to Denison in 2008. After posting a 15-4 record last year and narrowly missing out on a postseason bid, Hoffman and his team made it no secret that the goal was to get back to the tournament in 2011, noting that a favorable seed in the SCAC Tournament and what that could do toward an NCAA bid helped motivate the team throughout the year. Though a tie with Birmingham-Southern on the final day of the regular season kept Centre from earning the second seed and a first round bye in the conference tournament, the team was still able to knock off the Panthers in the rematch and make the finals despite having to play an extra game.
“The coaching staff couldn’t be prouder of these girls,” Hoffman said. “From the preseason on, the intensity they brought was excellent. It was there throughout because we knew we had to get a higher seed in the SCAC Tournament. That meant every game we were playing for points. The fact that we were the third seed was a little bit disappointing because that meant we had to do some special things to ensure we got to the NCAA Tournament. One was that we knew we had to get to the final game against Trinity.”
The season had the look of something special from the beginning, when the Colonels outscored their opponents 20-1 in a 6-0 start that included a 5-1 win over rival Transylvania and a victory over then-#1 Otterbein. The Colonels climbed as high as eighth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll and are currently ranked #22.
Though there were initial concerns about losing four of the top five scorers from last season, several players stepped in to fill the offensive void, led by Morgan Collins ’14 and Anne Mitchell ’15, who tied for the team lead in points with 14, and Mary Taylor Kersey ’13, who led the team and finished third in the league with nine assists.
On the other end, the Colonels were expected to have a strong defense with several players returning, and the unit certainly didn’t disappoint. Centre posted 13 shutouts in all, was second in the conference with a 0.55 goals against average and allowed more than one goal just twice. Goalkeeper Kelli Lenz ’12 led the league in shutouts, was second in save percentage (.889) and third in the league in goals against average (0.49).
“I think the biggest thing is experience,” Hoffman added. “We have four starters coming back and a goalkeeper that wanted it. We saw our goalkeeper Kelli come in and say, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’ Her effort landed her the nomination for captain by her players. Those players stay tight, protect the goal and don’t allow a lot of shots, which is always a great thing.”
When Centre takes the field Saturday, it will be against a similar opponent in Roanoke. The Maroons finished with a 14-4-1 record, finished third in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and, like Centre, earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after falling in the conference to #15 Virginia Wesleyan. Roanoke will be making its third NCAA appearance.
“I think it’s going to be two fairly similar systems of play,” said Hoffman. “A lot of it is going to be focusing on what we do this week to make sure we are mentally and physically ready to go for that game on Saturday night.”
Centre and Roanoke are set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday following a 5 p.m. contest between Emory and Piedmont College. If the Colonels win, they would face the Emory-Piedmont winner Sunday at 5 p.m.
Live stats and video for all three games are available on Emory’s website.