Lady Lions conquer Conference

UCA Athletics / Josh Goff
The soccer team “Lion up” with the Southland Conference trophy, giving the program its eighth official Conference title. The team will be traveling to Alabama to face off against the Auburn Tigers November 14 in the NCAA Tournament.

UCA Athletics / Josh Goff

The war began when the Lady Lions soccer team took on Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the first round of the Southland Conference Championships at Central Arkansas’ Bill Stephens Track/Soccer Complex.

The Thursday afternoon was riddled with rain and storm, but the girls’ spirits did not dampen like the field they played on.

“The ultimate objective of wanting to win the tournament was their motivation,” said Head soccer Coach Blake Hornbuckle. “But, I also think they just wanted to put their best foot forward.”

Within the first 20 minutes, two goals had already been scored by Lady Lions senior forward Kayla Vera and senior midfielder Gisenia Utreras.

Lightning struck, and after a pair of delays, it was then sophomore midfielder Maggie Ramsey who added another goal to the list before the second half.

In this game, junior goalkeeper Hope Sabadash made six saves.

The following day, it was a close victory for the Lady Lions against Stephen F. Austin, with a final score of 1-0. 

Again, an early goal was scored, this time by Ramsey, in the first eight minutes of the game. Afterwards, it was a game of defense, with the Ladyjacks outshooting the Lady Lions 20-13. Sabadash’s presence in goal remained intense.

“The backline was fantastic,” said Hornbuckle.

The final battle of the tournament was on Sunday, when the Lady Lions faced the last team in the way of gaining their eighth Southland Conference title: Sam Houston.

According to Hornbuckle, despite continued bad weather, the strong winds did not affect the team’s playing.

“They adapted to the elements really well,” said Hornbuckle. “They do well in adapting; whether they have been on turf, grass, it’s rainy, or muggy, the girls haven’t had any problems playing a good game.”

In this final, the teams were evenly matched up, and as in their 2013 match against Stephen F. Austin, the Lady Lions’ salvation rested on Sabadash’s shoulders in penalty kicks.

When both teams remained scoreless in the regulation period, two 10 minute overtime periods were added to the time. 

When it was finally time for penalty kicks, both teams had been playing for over 110 minutes. After winning the toss, Sam Houston decided to shoot first in the shootout. First up was senior midfielder Mariah Titus, delivering a shot straight into Sabadash’s arms. Utreras then followed and made a goal for the Lady Lions when her ball found the top right corner of the net. Freshman forward Micaela Birt of Sam Houston made her shot, tying the game, but when Vera went forward, she faked out the goalie and added her own goal to the list.

When Sam Houston freshman midfielder Meredith Carlson missed the goal entirely, sophomore midfielder Ana Zadro nailed another goal for the Lady Lions, and the match was won when Sabadash then saved another shot from senior defender Katie Bunch.

“Hope was monstrous,” said Hornbuckle. “She did great all day long.”

The keeper herself was not surprised by the outcome of the game.

“There would be nothing today less than a win for our team going into the game,” said Sabadash. “You know you’re going to have two teams with very good defenses, and somebody was either going to get very lucky, or we were going to go all the way through.”  

The Lady Lions next game will be on the road against the Auburn Tigers on November 14 at 6:00 p.m

But for now, Hornbuckle believes the girls will remain grounded for what comes next.

“We’re very excited,” said Hornbuckle. “It never gets old when you have the ability to gain a title and when you win it after all that hard work.”