The women’s soccer team is heading to the NCAA tournament’s Round of 16 for the third year in a row.
A Freedom Conference championship victory over DeSales University, 2-1 on the road entered the Cougars into the tournament, while a win over Cabrini College 4-0 in the first round, and a 2-1 win over Brandeis University in the second round of the NCAA tournament earned them a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
Head women’s soccer coach Mark Stauffer is looking forward to the team’s round of sixteen games against The College of New Jersey, which will be played in Williamstown, Mass. Nov. 22. He does not doubt his team’s ability to progress in the tournament.
“TCNJ is a quality team who have won multiple national titles. However, we have more recent success in the NCAA tourney,” said Stauffer.
Senior forward and captain Megan Mahoney believes that while TCNJ is a skilled team, the Cougars will still come out on top.
“I’m confident that we have the skills, discipline, and desire to make it to the final, but right now we’re just focusing on one game at a time,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney attributes the team’s confidence and depth to the women’s success not only in the NCAA tournament, but throughout the entire season. She also believes those two qualities will land them in the NCAA final.
“This year we are going into the Sweet Sixteen with more depth and more confidence. We won both of our games this past weekend in regulation time, whereas last year we advanced to the sweet sixteen on PKs. I think the obstacles we have had to overcome this season have prepared us for anything we can experience in our upcoming games,” said Mahoney.
Although first year midfielder Emily Szeflinski was not a part of the Cougars’ past two Sweet Sixteen runs, she said she is thrilled to be a part of such a hard-working and dedicated team.
“If you were to pin down one certain person as a key influence you would end up naming the whole team. Everyone is important. While some may play more than others or score more than others, every single person on the team is important. Everyone brings something different to the table and allows us to get better every day,” said Szeflinksi.
Stauffer agrees that while some players are known as goal scorers and some are known as team leaders, now is the time for players to take control, break out and show everyone what they are really made of.
“It’s a group effort. Obviously, there are your goal scorers and top defenders, but typically to go on a run in the NCAA national tourney, you need different players to step up and have a quality performance each game,” said Stauffer.
While some see traveling as a concern, Stauffer believes it is truly what the team makes of it. the women have had to travel multiple times in years past and have had success, so they see no reason why that cannot be the case again.
“Traveling is what you make of it. It can be a positive experience or a negative one. I think we have done a good job in the past of making it a positive one having won 4 straight road games to advance to the 2012 national final four,” said Stauffer.
Mahoney believes traveling is tough because it means being away from home and from familiarity, which can make some players uncomfortable. While travel may make the game a little more difficult, she does not see it as predictive of how the team plays.
“Traveling always makes it a little bit more difficult to win and advance, but we’ve done it before and I know we will do it again. When you travel, you don’t have your home fans there supporting you, you have to play on an unfamiliar field, and your regular game day routine gets messed up. We should be able to mentally prepare ourselves as if it were a home game,” said Mahoney.
At this point in the season, all coaches and players believe many accomplishments have been made and more are to come in the remainder of the NCAA tournament.
“We faced some adversity leading up to that final match and I was proud of the way we handled it and won the game,” said Mahoney.
The Cougars have worked together since the hot days of preseason last summer and will continue to work hard until the last day of the season, Stauffer said.
“Our biggest accomplishment has simply been our overall team chemistry from day one. Keeping 32 players motivated, healthy, and wanting to play for each other over a long three to four-month season is a challenge, but this group has been absolutely amazing at it. Winning another Freedom Conference title was just one of our goals that we reached along the way to go with a national ranking in the top 10. Now we have to go out daily and prove it on the field,” said Stauffer.