Needing a win to keep pace with Concordia-St. Paul in the race for eighth place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, the Southwest Minnesota State women's soccer team saw its postseason hopes take a big hit Sunday as the Mustangs squandered a two-goal lead and fell 3-2 to the Golden Bears.
"It's tough to have a two-goal lead and not finish it off," SMSU head coach TJ Buchholz said. "We had an opportunity to finish them off and it didn't happen and we gave them confidence and allowed them to stay in the game, which put us at a disadvantage, unfortunately."
SMSU and Concordia-St. Paul each entered the weekend with identical 5-5-1 NSIC records and were tied for eighth in the conference. The top eight teams make the NSIC postseason tournament. On Saturday, the Mustangs lost their match with No. 1-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato 2-0, while C-SP won its match with Sioux Falls. SMSU needed a win Sunday to keep up with the Golden Bears, but now find themselves two games back with two games to play.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State sophomore Kayla Williams (18) is sandwiched between Concordia-St. Paul’s Kaylyn Rae Smith (13) and Chloe Moore while trying to win a header off a throw in during Sunday’s game.
It was certainly a promising start to Sunday's game for the Mustangs, who got two first-half goals from freshman midfielder Megan Kilroy. Her first came off a free kick in the 26th minute, and for her second she sent a long-range shot over C-SP goalkeeper Emma Gartner, who had come off her line, in the 35th minute.
The goals were the first two of Kilroy's young career.
It didn't take long for the Golden Bears to respond, as Chloe Moore scored off an Emily Ecklund corner kick less than two minutes later to cut the SMSU lead in half. Concordia-St. Paul quickly tied the match in the second half when Jess Bianchi tacked on a goal in the 49th minute. And in the 70th minute, C-SP's Arielle Stimson knocked in a ball in front of the net for the Golden Bears' third unanswered goal.
The Mustangs had played tough with MSU-Mankato the day before, but Buchholz said he felt his team sat back in the second half of Sunday's game.
"Our effort was outstanding [Saturday]. It was a completely different game [Sunday]," Buchholz said. "That's the challenge is you can't just get up for one team on the weekend, you have to play both."
SMSU had a few opportunities to score in the second half. One of the best was in the 84th minute when forward Kendahl Fisher broke free and was 1-on-1 against the goalie, but played a touch too far and allowed Gartner to grab the ball before Fisher had a chance to put a shot on goal.
C-SP finished the match with 19 shots (13 on goal), while SMSU had 13 shots (eight on goal). SMSU goalkeeper Sonya Smith had nine saves in the match.
The Mustangs were playing without sophomore midfielder Autumn Hayes, one of the most experienced players on their young roster, for the sixth straight match and Buchholz said the loss has proven difficult to overcome.
"For us, we're just kind of figuring it out. Not having Autumn in the midfield is key for us," he said. "We lack a little bit of seeing the right decisions, sometimes, in the midfield.
"We're deeper than Autumn, but I feel like we've struggled in that space and that showed today. They're a very good team and you can't beat a team like that when you don't play up to the best you can play."
SMSU has two matches left in the regular season. The Mustangs' final home match is 7 p.m. Friday at Mattke Field, and they will wrap up the season Sunday at Wayne State (Neb.).