In a classroom on the second floor of the easternmost side of the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse, 30 Northwest soccer players sat in their seats waiting for the announcement they’ve been anticipating since the end of their MIAA Tournament game against Emporia State Nov. 12.
Among the room’s outskirts stood coach Marc Gordon, awaiting the same thing his players were.
As the NCAA Division II Selection Show went live, the announcement came that much closer.
Waiting on their names to be called, the Bearcats had to sit anxiously as the Atlantic and East Regions of the tournament were announced first.
As Jonathan Matthes, the host of the selection show, read through the names of the teams participating in the tournament, senior midfielder Madison McKeever wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
“We were all stressed, like, huddled together, kind of freaking out,” McKeever said.
Then, it was the Central Region’s turn.
Graduate student forward Alex Mausbach said the possibility was already discussed among the teammates before the show.
“A lot of us were confident,” Mausbach said. “This past weekend, we’ve just been looking at all the stats, and we’re like, ‘No way we don’t get in.’ We’re like, ‘We have worked way too hard. Our record shows it. There’s no way we don’t get in.’ And, honestly, when you saw it got to the Central Region and the names started appearing, that’s kind of when the nerves kicked in. I was like, ‘Oh, no. What if we don’t get called?’”
The room fell in silence, and the players watched intensely at the screen, hoping Matthes would say exactly what they wanted to hear.
He did just that, announcing the Bearcats as participants in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s 22-year history.
What was previously silence became anything but that, as the players — barely able to remain in their seats — erupted in cheers at the sound of their names being called.
Three years ago, that would’ve been a hard thing to imagine.
After battling against Lindenwood for 90 minutes Oct. 28, 2018, the match went into overtime. Both teams were held scoreless throughout regulation despite 24 combined shots.
The first overtime came and went the same as the first 90 minutes — without a score. The second overtime didn’t seem as if it was going to end any differently. There was just one minute left on the clock, and a tie seemed imminent.
Unfortunately for the 2018 Northwest soccer team, things did not end that well.
With a mere nine seconds left in the match, a scramble in front of the goal gave Lindenwood then-freshman forward Emily Jowers an opportunity to take a shot on the goal. From eight yards out, she took it.
Jowers nailed it, and the Bearcats lost their 15th game of that year — the program’s most losses in a single season.
On that 2018 Northwest team was then-sophomores forward Alex Mausbach, forward Madison Krueger and midfielder Madison McKeever. They were joined by then-freshmen goalkeeper Alexis Serna Castillo, midfielder Joanna Shaw and midfielder Jessie Brown.
Three years later, Mausbach reflected on that season and said she never would have guessed what the team would accomplish in 2021.
“I mean, it’s incredible,” Mausbach said.
McKeever said there was a sigh of relief after the announcement.
“We made it,” McKeever said. “All our hard work had paid off, and we were all very excited.”
After filling their postseason-hopeful resume with a record of 13-6-1, Northwest was slated at the No. 7 spot out of the eight teams selected from the Central Region to participate in the tournament.
McKeever was barely able to find the words to describe the feeling of watching her team’s name come up while watching the selection show in Hughes Fieldhouse.
“Honestly, I’m still shocked,” McKeever said in the aftermath of the team’s watch party. “When I came here, I never thought that would happen. So to see our name up there is amazing, and I’m still in shock.”
Three other MIAA teams were also selected to be in the tournament. At No. 1 in the Central Region is Central Missouri, earning the spot after winning the MIAA in the regular season. No. 2 in the Central Region is the No. 2 team in the MIAA: Emporia State, the 2021 MIAA Tournament champion. At No. 6 is Central Oklahoma with a 13-4-2 record.
When the Bearcats take the field Nov. 19 for their first NCAA Tournament match, it will be against a familiar opponent — Emporia State. The Bearcats have played the Hornets twice this season, including a 2-0 loss to the Hornets in the semifinals of the MIAA Tournament.
“We know how they play and how we match up against them,” McKeever said. “We can fix some things in practice this week, and we’re very confident we can go give them our best and get the win.”
Mausbach said the team is confident in “a third time’s the charm,” and she expects the intensity to be at its highest for the game.
“Honestly, just to, like, definitely have this be my last season, it’s so awesome, and there’s no better way to go out, no matter what the result is,” Mausbach said. “Obviously, we’re looking for the win, but I’m just so proud of the girls on this team, and of (Gordon) and how he just turned around a program within three years. It’s just awesome to be a part of.”
Despite it being hard for most to imagine that in three years the team would be in the NCAA Tournament, that’s exactly where the Bearcats are.
They aren’t going to marvel at the fact that they’ve added another notch to this historic season’s belt, though. Instead, they’re planning on adding another. They’re excited they’re in the tournament, but they’re not planning on being done anytime soon.
“What a great experience for the players,” Gordon said. “We set out to make the team better, and we’re progressing that way.”
“I mean, we’re all expecting a dogfight, based on just the last time we played them,” Mausbach said. “We’re on their grounds, but we’re ready to go out guns blazing.”