Fighting to finish in the top eight of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and qualify for the postseason tournament, the Southwest Minnesota State women's soccer team picked up a pair of key home wins over the weekend.
SMSU freshman forward Miranda Cadena scored three goals over the two games, finishing off a 2-1 double overtime win against Northern State on Saturday and then tallying the first two of a string of three Mustang goals in a three-minute span during the second half of a 3-0 victory against Minnesota State-Moorhead on Sunday.
The two victories move the Mustangs to 7-5-1 overall and 5-5-1 in the NSIC, which puts them in a tie with Concordia-St. Paul for eighth in the 16-team conference.
Southwest Minnesota State junior midfielder Danica Caudillo (8) battles for the ball with Minnesota State-Moorhead’s Sarah Toker (4)?during the second half of Sunday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game at Mattke Field.
"This was a must-win weekend for us, we talked about that," SMSU head coach TJ Buchholz said. "It's been challenging. People don't realize that we've been on the road three of the first four weekends and now we finish at home, so we have to take care of our homefield advantage. We did that today, which got us back to .500 with four games left in conference.
"You know, I think we've got some tough tests ahead, but it's good to be .500 and be able to continue to be in that hunt for a playoff spot. The top eight out of 16 make it, so that's something we definitely think we can do this year."
The Mustangs had to play into stiff winds in the first half of Sunday's game, and managed to weather the gusts as well as the Dragons' offensive attack.
Moorhead threatened to score in the third minute on a shot by Holly Gillund on a 1-on-1 opportunity, but Mustang goalkeeper Sonya Smith, who had five saves Sunday (four in the first half), was up to the task and kept the Dragons off the board.
"That's what Sonya does," Buchholz said. "She makes those one or two key saves each game that keeps us in it. That's important to have."
With the wind at their backs in the second half, the Mustangs weren't able to get much going offensively until Cadena took a pass from Kendahl Fisher and broke ahead of the defense, sending a shot past Moorhead keeper Carole Brascheyako. Less than two minutes later, Fischer sent another pass ahead of the pack and Cadena overtook a defender with her speed, got control of the ball and beat Brascheyako again.
"We started her on the right and flipped her over to the left, and within minutes from doing that she darts in for a goal," Buchholz said of Cadena, who now has five goals this season. "That's what she does. All three of our forwards do something different, and Miranda's specialty, especially in a game like today, is if we can get in behind the defense, she's so fast that she can work her way in there."
Not even a minute after Cadena's second goal, SMSU freshman defender Danica Requejo kicked the ball towards the goal from near midfield. The wind played with it a bit in the air and Cadena ran towards Brascheyako to try to deflect the ball into the net. But no deflection was needed, as the ball sailed past Brascheyako for Requejo's first career goal.
SMSU will continue its five-match homestand next weekend, facing conference-leading Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday before an important match with Concordia-St. Paul on Sunday.