EMPORIA, Kan. — On the field stood roughly 30 soccer players, moments after their 90-minute contest.
The horn had already rung, and the scores were already in the books, but with newly formed tears, some of the players stared at the scoreboard, seemingly waiting for it to change.
That change never came.
As those tears traveled down the cheeks of their creators, one-by-one the players changed their focus from the scoreboard to their teammates, whose eyes were also filled with tears.
The players met one another with arms stretched out. They — like everyone else in attendance — knew the result.
What they were staring at on the scoreboard, was the clock with zero seconds left, and a score that read “2-0,” marking the end of Northwest soccer’s season with a loss to Emporia State Friday afternoon.
“We want to take away this experience for the entire team,” coach Marc Gordon said in a quiet voice.
The Bearcats were used to this situation — a match with MIAA foe No. 17 Emporia. However, Northwest was never meant to be there in the first place.
In the MIAA preseason coaches' poll, Northwest was slated to finish seventh in the MIAA. Yet, there the Bearcats were, third place in the MIAA and in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program's 22-year history, set for a third matchup on the season with the Hornets.
After finishing up the last of her hugs, and with the tears beginning to dry up in her eyes, Northwest senior midfielder Madison McKeever said she’s proud of the team and how the Bearcats were able to shock people with their historic season.
“We end our season here, but there’s so much we can look back on that we did this season," McKeever said. "So proud of every single person.”
Unfortunately for the Bearcats, their match with the Hornets ended the same as the first two.
“They have a certain way they play,” Gordon said about the Hornets. “They’re very good at it; just key moments in how they’re able to create scoring opportunities. They’re very effective, and they’re just a tough matchup for us.”
The Hornets did, in fact, effectively create scoring opportunities — 10 in total.
Roughly 17 minutes in, Emporia senior midfielder Aislinn Hughes capitalized on one of those opportunities.
The two teams stood just outside the borders of the penalty box on Northwest's side of the pitch, awaiting the throw-in. The ball was launched into the air from out-of-bounds and ended up on the pitch in front of Hughes’ feet. With no hesitation, she kicked the ball toward the goal, which held true for the first score of the game.
Things did not get much easier for the Bearcats from there.
For the next 61 minutes, the two teams were locked in a back-and-forth battle, with both teams struggling to generate any offense. In that time, Northwest mustered three shots to Emporia’s five.
“I just think we got into a bit of urgency and a panic,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the Hornets were great at creating chaos, which kept the Bearcats playing catch-up with the ball, and prevented them from getting a goal of their own.
In the 78th minute, Emporia junior forward Alexis Cole scored the second and final goal of the game to give the Hornets a 2-0 lead with 12 minutes left. Northwest fell to the Hornets for the second time in seven days.
“We just ran out of time,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t a lack of effort and that we weren’t still trying. They just managed us well.”
Despite the Bearcats scoring the most goals in a season in program history (36), they were only able to put up a mere six shots and zero goals against the Hornets.
Graduate student midfielder Alex Mausbach said they’re not focused on the statistics, and everyone is still proud of the team.
“We had a group of fighters, and every girl came in and worked their butts off, day-in and day-out,” Mausbach said with tears rolling down her cheeks and onto the grass field.
Similar to Mausbach, McKeever has been on the team during its rebuilding process to go from 2-15 in 2018 to a 12-5-1 finish this fall.
“It’s amazing to be able to see that growth in our five years here,” McKeever said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this program and that we were able to turn it around.”
Gordon said the focus now turns to the younger players, who will be tasked with continuing the precedent set by the team in its best season to date.
“They should be excited for the next coming years,” Mausbach said. “They know the amount of work it takes to get here, so it’s just about constantly keeping that fight in them and working even harder than they did this year.”
“They have set a very high bar for programs going forward at Northwest,” Gordon said of this year's team. “Hopefully it will inspire those who are still here to continue the legacy of this year’s team to do great things in the future.”