The Wildcats had already secured a spot in the 2017 Southland Conference Tournament before defeating Incarnate Word 4-2 to finish the season 6-5 in conference and clinch the sixth seed. But the win did more than just solidify that spot for ACU.
With the 4-2 victory, the Wildcats obviously now have momentum heading into the tournament and are almost at full strength in terms of health. It also built off the program’s first ever win over Stephen F. Austin, giving the team a two-game winning streak on the heels of a three-game skid that bumped the Wildcats from the top of the rankings late in the season.
The win also made ACU one of two teams to post a winning Southland Conference record in each of the last five years, the other being perennial powerhouse Stephen F. Austin. A team the women shutout 2-0 in their final home game of the regular season.
But the slates are clean for the tournament and while that momentum should help, nothing will come easy for the Wildcats.
ACU found out earlier this week it will play McNeese State in the first round of its first-ever Southland Conference Tournament appearance. The two teams met in Lake Charles October 13, and it was the Cowgirls shutting out the Wildcats 3-0. But unlike ACU, McNeese enters the tournament having lost its last two games and allowing seven total goals. Previously, the Cowgirls had shut out seven of nine of its conference opponents.
The Wildcats will look to continue to rely on its strengths in the attacking half in freshman Christina Arteaga and junior Dylan Owens. Both were recognized by the conference on Tuesday with season accolades. Arteaga took home freshman of the year, making it consecutive years ACU has won the award with now sophomore Shay Johnson earning it in 2016. Owens was recognized as a First Team all-Conference selection after scoring eight goals in the regular season.
Unfortunately for the women, McNeese State enters the Wednesday’s match up even more decorated. The Cowgirls will roll out the player of the year in Stephanie LaRicci, who scored 12 goals this season, goalkeeper of the year in Emma Roccaforte and defender of the year in Gabi D’Alesandro. McNeese also earned two second team recognitions.
The game is scheduled for 2 p.m., and should the Wildcats win they will take on the winner of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State on Friday. The championship is set for Sunday at 1:05 p.m. and will be featured on ESPN3.