After a vital weekend in its push for the postseason, Northwest women’s soccer finds itself in the exact situation it was a week ago: with the fate of its season hanging in the balance.
The Bearcats entered their matchup with Rogers State Oct. 18 tied with the Hillcats for the No. 8 seed in the MIAA. After 180 minutes of soccer over the weekend, the Bearcats status hasn’t changed — they remain tied with Rogers State on the edge of postseason contention, clinging to the prospect of an MIAA tournament berth.
Northwest (4-7-3, 2-3-2 MIAA) escaped the weekend without losing ground in the postseason race, though the team failed to gain ground, either. The Bearcats rode high winds to a 3-1 win against the Hillcats (5-6-3, 2-3-2 MIAA) but failed to capitalize on similar weather conditions in their 2-1 loss to Northeastern State (5-2) Oct. 20.
The weekend, of course, has left the Bearcats treading water in the MIAA.
“Yeah, there’s a logjam, isn’t there?” coach Marc Gordon said. “I think every game is gonna matter. If we can be fortunate with the remaining top teams that we play — come out and perform and catch some breaks and continue to prepare for our opponents. And maybe sneak one by somebody that folks don’t think we should. Everybody’s battling for each other.”
Northwest’s performance against Rogers State allowed the Bearcats a brief moment of relief in the conference race. The Hillcats and Bearcats, along with Newman (2-2-3 MIAA) and Central Oklahoma (3-4 MIAA), are a collection of sub-.500 teams who are essentially battling for the final three spots in the conference tournaments.
With the win over the Hillcats, Northwest secured the head-to-head series between the two teams, though that win will only directly impact final conference standings as a second tie-breaker, after conference record and conference points.
The edge provided with the victory is relatively small, though it could pay off at the conclusion of the regular season gantlet. Gordon, though, doesn’t want to leave Northwest’s season to chance. In the aftermath of Northwest’s triumph over Rogers State, the coach said the Bearcats’ head-to-head edge over the Hillcats was insignificant, that the team had to continue to win matches for it to matter.
“We can’t focus on anybody else but us,” Gordon said. “We have to continue to do our homework and prepare for each match. Just take them, the cliche, one at a time. But that’s the reality — we can’t look past anybody. We have a lot of work to do.”
In Northwest’s Oct. 20 matchup with Northeastern State, two days after the team’s defining win over the Hillcats, the Bearcats suffered a setback in the form of a 2-1 loss. The same listless Maryville winds that Gordon said were advantageous to the Bearcats in their win over Rogers State doomed them in the final moments of their loss to the RiverHawks.
After conceding a first-half goal to Northeastern State, the Bearcats found life in the form of a game-tying goal in the match’s 79th minute, one pushed across by senior midfielder Izzy Romano. She was assisted by sophomore midfielder Jessie Brown and junior forward Alex Mausbach.
The goal, celebrated by the Bearcats who sported pink uniforms in support of breast cancer awareness, seemed destined to push Northwest to extra minutes for the third time in four matches.
Instead, the RiverHawks responded as Northwest’s defense lapsed with 1:29 left in the match, allowing Northeastern’s Sarah Rector to net the go-ahead goal.
From the sideline, Gordon muttered to himself as the final 90 seconds of the match played out. The Bearcats outshot the RiverHawks 18-13 in the match and 11-7 in the second period. It didn’t matter. With a chance to tie with or beat Northeastern, the No. 2 team in the conference, Northwest failed to capitalize.
In the aftermath of the loss, one Gordon described as a “heartbreaker,” the coach said he was proud of the way the Bearcats’ fought back late in the second half, but Gordon admitted to his own dissatisfaction, an effect of the team’s missed opportunity.
“I’m disappointed for the girls because they really did work so hard and played so well,” Gordon said. “No one’s feeling sorry for us. … I just told (the players) I feel like we’re a good team but great teams learn how to finish games off. There’s the example. There’s a reason (Northeastern) is one of the top teams in the conference right now. They just never quit.”
Gordon said the final minutes of matches have been the Achilles heel for the program this season and the matchup with Northeastern was no different. The Bearcats settled for poor shots, Gordon said, and wore their youthfulness on their sleeves in the game’s final moments.
Heading into its final four matches, including contests with Central Oklahoma Oct. 25 and Newman Oct. 27, Northwest will have another opportunity to make strides in the race for the conference tournament’s final three seeds.
Gordon said he expects the Bearcats to compete over their final two weekends of the regular season and said the key to a winning formula will be his players’ trust in one another. He hopes the team plays as it did for the first 88 minutes against the RiverHawks.
“I want the team that was just here to be available and playing the way they played for each other,” Gordon said after Northwest’s matchup with Northeastern. “The expectation is for us to go and compete as we did today, and I think we have the tools to do it. We just need to find ourselves (and) to continue to work towards winning games like today’s.”