Standing in the middle of a crowded room at the Northwest Athletics Media Luncheon Oct. 29, Northwest soccer coach Marc Gordon compared trying to earn a spot in the MIAA Tournament to trying to get out of quicksand.
Heading into the last weekend of regular season play, the Bearcats sit at 10th in the conference, the top eight teams make the postseason. The Bearcats will either sink in the sand or prevail to the postseason.
Ahead of last week’s games, the Bearcats sat at eighth, the final spot in the postseason. The women found themselves sinking deeper into the pit after two consecutive losses over the weekend, falling 8-0 to Central Oklahoma Oct. 25 and dropping a 1-0 match to Newman Oct. 27.
In some ways, the blowout loss to the Bronchos served as a teaching point for the program.
“After Friday night’s match, I just told the team, ‘There are lessons within this loss that we were supposed to learn, that I’m supposed to be learning as a coach,’” Gordon said. “I didn’t know what words to say. … The way (Central Oklahoma) played was just at a different level, and we could never catch up.”
After taking away the lessons learned, the Bearcats’ focus turned to their matchup with Newman two days later.
Coming off of the unsettling performance, the first of its kind this season, the results of the game against the Jets was up in the air.
“My focus immediately went to Sunday. I wasn’t sure what would happen,” Gordon said. “The weekend was miserable in terms of weather. We went from this super-fast turf, balls sliding all over the place for us in the rain, to a cold, windy, grassy dry field, that slows the play down a little bit. Both teams, I felt in the first half, were really feeling each other out.”
The ’Cats missed an opportunity to clear a ball, which resulted in the lone goal scored in the contest from Newman in the 27th minute. From then on, the Bearcats’ offense controlled the time of possession and made some scoring opportunities for themselves. The team started to focus, Gordon said, and forgot the events of the matchup with the Bronchos, but it wasn’t enough to counter its faults.
“The takeaways from the weekend are, for me, probably our persistence of effort and now coming up with the final solution for creating goals,” Gordon said.
These thorns in the Bearcats’ side, Gordon said, are keeping them out of playoff contention. Plucking those thorns could lead them to winning their final games, and Gordon has a plan to do just that, he hopes.
“I’m trying to focus on the process. You can get caught up in the wins and losses, especially when you come off of the last eight or nine days that we’ve had,” Gordon said. “I want to focus on playing the style of soccer that I want us to play and for us to get better and for the girls to trust each other and to execute. We’ve demonstrated it, that when we do those things, we can play with anybody.”
Gordon added that he has the players working on “tactile attacking positions” in order to create space for teammates and pull the defense apart. The week leading up to the Bearcats’ game against Missouri Western Nov. 1 is focused on breaking down the Griffons’ defense and scoring goals.
The focus for the final game of the regular season against Missouri Southern, which is 11th in the MIAA, Nov. 3 is dependent on how the team performs against Missouri Western, which is 12th in the MIAA. Whether the ’Cats continue to the MIAA tournament will be decided after each game’s conclusion, Gordon said, but there’s still a shot at a postseason berth.
With their postseason hopes hanging in the balance, the ’Cats are the dealers of their own fate.
“I want them to go out and know that the challenge is internal,” Gordon said. “It's what we know we’re capable of doing to perform at the highest level that we can. If you hang your hat on getting the result, I feel like they’re going to focus on that and not focus on the things we need to within our process to be successful. If we do us, I think we will play very well this weekend.”