For eighteen games this season, the No. 2 ACU Wildcat women’s soccer team has been perfect. The team, boasting a record of 17-0-1, has clinched the top spot and hosting rights in the Lone Star Conference this weekend and a first round bye. The 17-win season also ties the team’s win total last season, which came after the conference tournament and NCAA tournament appearance.
The team wrapped up their regular season conference schedule Sunday when it topped rival West Texas A&M 1-0 before beating Midwestern State 2-1 Friday in Wichita Falls.
Sophomore midfielder Ashley Craig scored the game’s lone goal in the 77th minute of action, while goalkeeper Elliott London stopped six shots en route to recording the team’s tenth shutout of the season, a program best.
“I told the girls about the magnitude of Sunday’s win and not to walk away from it nonchalantly,” head coach Casey Wilson said. “What they’ve accomplished is something that is difficult to do in a conference that is tough from top to bottom. They’ve raised the bar all the way to the top.”
A scoreless first half was the result of solid defense, missed opportunities and uncharacteristic poor passing from the Wildcats. Both teams combined for 13 shots, but none slipped past London and Lady Buff goalkeeper Yvette Bedoy.
“The first half we were trying to force the ball up the middle a little too much,” Wilson said. “We gave the ball away quite a few times, but WT did too. It was just a matter of us regrouping and sticking to what we’ve done all season.
In the 23rd minute, the West Texas A&M offense had several opportunities to score, but London held her ground. The Lady Buffs fired six shots in that span, but two were saved by London while another was booted out of play by an ACU defender.
The ACU offense was the story of the second half, as much of the half was spent on the West Texas A&M half of the field. The ‘Cats fired 12 shots over a 30- minute time span.
Wilson changed up some of his players’ positions coming out of the second half. Sophomore forward Andrea Carpenter was at an outside midfielder position, and defender Katherine Garner switched to the forward position in an attempt to fully utilize each player’s individual talents.
“We changed up positions a little in the second half purely to try and put players in the best position to make plays and use their skills,” Wilson said. “We felt that using Andrea on the outside would be more effective than having her strictly at forward. Doing that gave us an opportunity to attack from the outside.”
The change paid dividends. Sophomore midfielder Ashley Craig booted in her second goal of the season, a crossing diagonal that was out of the reach of Bedoy and fell into the goal’s side netting. Garner was credited with the assist.
“Katherine did a great job of dribbling up the field and getting it up as far as she could, and then I just happened to be on the other side of the field and she crossed it to me,” Craig said. “I took one touch and shot it. I would’ve liked to cross the ball rather than shoot, but it wasn’t there. Luckily it went in.”
While the Wildcats’ offense was null in the first half, the team finished with a 21-15 shot advantage.
“This team has created a lot of opportunities to score over the last 18 games without a doubt, but we had a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games this year too,” Wilson said.Â “That’s the essence of soccer as a game. Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don’t. All games are hard fought, no matter the final score.”
The team used goals from junior Krysta Grimm and freshman Megan Turner and a solid defensive outing to hold off Midwestern State 2-1 Friday in Wichita Falls. That match concluded ACU’s five-game road stretch in which the team went 5-0.
“Midwestern played really well against us,” Carpenter said. “They challenged us and made us bring our ‘A’ game. I felt we did that.”
Grimm scored her ninth goal of the season in the 74th minute. Turner followed closely after, scoring her third goal of the season off an assist from Craig.
The loss snapped Midwestern’s five-game winning streak.
ACU will now set their sights on the Lone Star Conference Championship, which begins Thursday and ends Sunday. The Wildcats will play Friday at 2:30 in the second semifinal.
“We went 17-0-1, but it was a grind,” Wilson said. “It took a lot of energy and definitely took its toll on our team as a whole. I give all the credit to the girls for all they’ve put into this regular season.Â They came out 18 games and took care of business in every one of those. That’s a special thing, and we have a team full of special players.”