Thanks to a surge in scoring and a string of conference victories, the Sam Houston women’s soccer team is on the brink of its most successful season in the program’s 11-year history.
Already the squad has guaranteed itself of its highest league finish ever and scored the most goals in a Southland Conference league season. But other achievements await if the team can continue its winning ways.
The Bearkat players find the excitement of accomplishing things no other SHSU soccer team has done rewarding.
“This season has definitely been an awesome way for the seniors end our careers,” Ashley Fluty said. “I’m really proud to be part of this. We’ve really made progress and grown as a team.”
Fluty, a defender, and midfielder Madison Bible, defender Megan Manis and forward Jessica Toms will make their final appearances at Pritchett Field on Friday October 31 and Sunday November 2. Then, it’s on to Beaumont for the annual Southland Conference tournament.
The quartet of four-year seniors has played a major role in putting the Bearkats in position for unprecedented soccer success.
“This senior class has been a very important one to our program,” Sam Houston head coach Tom Brown said. “They came in when we were just starting to have some success. They helped build on that foundation to help us get to where we are now.”
Sam Houston has earned a berth in the conference post-season tournament seven times in 10 years. That includes five consecutive tournament appearances since 2009.
What could make this year’s post-season trip unique is that victories in the final regular season home games this weekend will earn the Kats one of the tournament’s top two seeds and an opening round bye.
“We’ve never had a bye in the first round,” Bible said. “We’ve always had the challenge of playing three games in four days to win the tournament. That extra day of rest would be huge and give us more time to prepare.”
To put themselves into position to achieve a high conference finish, the SHSU soccer team has won seven of their last eight matches after starting the year with only one victory in their first seven contests.
“We played a really tough preseason,” Bible said. “But that prepared us for what we would see in conference. Those tough games really helped us with what we needed to work on.”
What also helped the Bearkats was an offense that suddenly began to start scoring goals.
The 2014 team already has set a school record for most goals in one year's Southland play. Sam Houston leads the Southland Conference with 21 goals in league action.
“We’re just clicking a little more,” Bible said. “We’ve learned what we have to do to if our style of play is to be successful. We’re staying focused, knowing where to be before we get the ball and keeping that in mind what we had to do when we get it.”
Fluty, a defender, says that the scoring surge has helped at the other end of the field as well.
“It always helps out whenever we get goals,” Fluty said. “Once we get a goal it changes the momentum of the game.”
Brown agrees that the tough non-conference schedule and having a group of young women who have played together for the past couple of seasons have been key factors in the success.
“The tough non-conference schedule meant our team had to play under a lot of pressure early,” Brown said. “It was difficult and it was a good learning process. Scheduling easy teams doesn’t expose some of the weaknesses that are going to get exposed in conference play. This year, that experience certainly proved helpful.
“Also, the group up front played together last year. They’ve had a long time to work together and it’s paid off. Allie Johnson and Ashley Alonzo ranked one and two in scoring in the Southland in league games this year. They believe they are goal scorers now.”
Brown also commends the role his seniors have played this fall.
“Ashley, Megan, Jessica and Madison been keys for us,” Brown said. “Ashley has been a starter since she’s been here and has been an important factor behind the scenes in our team chemistry. Megan is a selfless player who came here as a forward but converted to an outside back. She made contributions on defense in places we really needed her.
“Jessica is a gifted player up front who has be plagued by injuries. She gets into games when we are able to possess the ball and played some valuable minutes this year. Madison has had an awesome year. She has a great attitude and a ton of talent.”
Brown notes that, while the team has posted several exciting new accomplishments this season, the women must maintain their focus if they are to be able to achieve even more. With two victories in the regular season matches and a tournament opening round bye, a tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA playoffs are still in the picture.
“Doing things that no one with Sam Houston soccer has ever done before excites this group,” Brown said. “We’ve never gotten a bye in the post season tournament before. To opportunity to be the number two seed entices them. We want to finish the season playing well and feeling good about ourselves going into the tournament.”
The Southland Conference tournament in Beaumont begins with opening round play Thursday, November 6 matching the number 3 and 6 seeds in one game and the number 4 and 5 seeds in the other. The semifinals will be played on Friday, November 7 and the finals on Sunday, November 9.