A season slated with high expectations ended on a promising note for Western, despite losing 3-0 to No. 18 Denver on Thursday in the second round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Mobile, Ala.
Players and coaches said they are looking forward to next season, when they’ll return all but one player, senior forward Jenny Klingenberg.
Conference powerhouse Denver (16-1-2) loses six seniors.
“Right now Denver is better than us,” Coach Jason Neidell said. “But if we do a few key things we need to do for next season, we’re going to be right there with them. Our goal next year is to be the top team in the Sun Belt.”
But for now, Denver remains the dominant team in the conference after winning the title game 3-0 against North Texas. The Lady Pioneers are expected to be the Sun Belt’s sole representative in the NCAA Tournament.
Thursday, Western and Denver remained scoreless until the Lady Pioneers netted a goal at the 41-minute mark, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime. Denver then struck early in the second half with a goal in the 50th minute.
Western tried to play catch-up the rest of the game, trying to score while holding off the Lady Pioneer attack. But Denevr put it out of reach 3-0 at the 83rd minute.
Sophomore forward Kelly Frericks said that the final score didn’t reflect how well Western played.
“Afterwards, some of us were upset, but you couldn’t have asked for anything else,” Frericks said. “Everyone played with their hearts. Denver is just a great team.”
After a disappointing finish to the regular season, the team returned home feeling positive about the tournament.
Western (10-9-0) beat a higher-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday after losing to them in overtime during the regular season. When Western played Denver on Oct. 13, the Lady Pioneers scored five first-half goals – compared to one on Friday.
“We weren’t (at the tournament) to lose. We were there to win,” Neidell said. “The game against Denver was real encouraging. We were in the game the whole way. To have an oppurtunity to win, up until the final eight minutes, was where we wanted to be.”
Sophomore midfielder Jocelyn Roach, who scored the game-winning goal against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday, was named to the All-Sun Belt tournament team.
Three other Lady Toppers were named to the regular season All-Sun Belt second team. Sophomore forwards Allison Nellis and Crystal Chapon, along with sophomore defender Melissa Robinson, received the honors at a banquet Tuesday night in Mobile. Nellis led the team with nine goals on the season.
BEGINITAL Reach Jay Lively at [email protected]