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AU women’s soccer prepares to make run in NCAA tournament

Zach Read

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Uncertainty was in the air Monday night (Nov. 5) as the Ashland University women’s soccer teamed gathered nervously into the Troop center to await their fate for the remainder of the 2018 season.

While the women watched the AU men’s soccer team celebrate their NCAA Division II tournament berth, the women were uncertain if their name would be called.

It finally came time for the women’s selection show around 6:30 pm, and it was not too long afterwards that a deafening roar of screams and cheers could be heard coming from the room in the Troop center.

After all they had been through this season, the Eagles had made it to the national tournament for the first time since 2004.

“I’m just so happy because we knew that we deserved this but actually being able to see it on the screen was just really a great feeling,” AU sophomore forward Hannah Simard said. “Just being able to play another day with my team, with my family, I just can’t describe it.”

Zach Read
The AU women’s soccer team sits and watches eagerly waiting for their name to be called during the NCAA Division II tournament selection show.

The Eagles (10-4-5) were chosen as an at-large No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region and will face off against the No. 2 seed and G-MAC champions Ohio Valley (16-2-3) on Thursday (Nov. 8) in Big Rapids, Mich.

“There’s always a little bit of uncertainty when you are hoping for an at-large bid,” AU interim head coach Taylor Clarke said. “But we felt confident that what we’ve proven has shown our strength in the region and we felt like we deserved to be here.”

Game after game this season the Eagles were reminded who they are playing for this year, and to play in the NCAA tournament, head coach Danny Krispinsky must be proud.

Krispinsky, who was diagnosed with cancer before the season got underway, had to step aside and let Clarke fill in as the interim head coach for the 2018 season.

“It means everything, to be able to play for DK is massive and that’s something that these girls have talked about since they found out that he wasn’t going to be the head coach this year,” Clarke said. “He represents what this program has been about and we’re going to keep going forward for him.”

Despite not having Krispinsky on the sidelines this season, the Eagles started the season with an 11 game unbeaten streak going 7-0-4 before they lost to Saginaw Valley State 2-1 on Oct. 6.

The Eagles had a little tougher end to the season after losing to No. 1 nationally ranked Grand Valley State 3-0 and dropping a tough game to Michigan Tech 2-0.

Nonetheless the Eagles reached the GLIAC tournament as the fifth seed and had the opportunity for revenge against the Huskies in the GLIAC quarterfinals on Oct. 30.

A lone goal by freshman Mackenzie Kelly in the 48th minute proved to be enough for the Eagles as they sent the Huskies home by a 1-0 defeat.

Moving into the GLIAC semifinals on Nov. 2 the Eagles were faced with the Lakers once again and lost that game by a score of 3-0 which led to the uncertainty of whether they would make it to the NCAA tournament or not.

“We still showed that we can play with top notch teams so we know no matter who we play in this tournament we can still win a national championship,” Simard said.

Going into the tournament, Ohio Valley is a team that averages 2.43 goals per game, has 51 total goals and 11 shutouts on the season. Their two losses have come to the Lakers (1-0) on Sept. 7 and G-MAC rival Walsh University (14-4-1) on Oct. 13 by a score of 2-1.

The Fighting Scots are a team that has five players from the United States and the remainder of their team mostly coming from Central America, nine players from Colombia specifically.

“It’s a team I’ve been able to look at a little bit,” Clarke said. “We know they are a really strong region team and they’re gonna give us a fight so we’ll be up for it.”

Offensively for the Fighting Scots they are led by their two sophomore strikers Fernanda Araya and Paula Valbuena who were named to the ALL G-MAC First Team. Araya leads the team with 16 goals over 90 shots (0.178 shot percentage) and has also contributed six assists.

Valbuena has also contributed 11 goals on 114 shots (0.096 shot percentage) and leads the team with seven assists.

Between the posts for Ohio Valley is senior goalkeeper Kimberly Mora who has only allowed 11 goals, has recorded 11 clean sheets and has 70 saves in the 2018 season.

Zach Read
AU Interim head coach Danny Krispinsky talks to his girls after finding out they made it into the NCAA tournament.

“With the amount of work that we have put in, the way that we lift each other up, the way that we’ve battled so far, I think the sky’s the limit for us,” AU junior forward Emily Ledbetter said.

The No. 7 seed Eagles have their work cut out for them but hope to pull off the upset against the No. 2 seed Fighting Scots of Ohio Valley on Thursday in the first round of the Midwest Regional tournament in Big Rapids, Mich. Kickoff is set for 11 am.

“It’s an exciting time and you just have to go out there and perform the best that you can on every single given day and know you’ve given yourself a chance,” Clarke said.

The winner of Ashland and Ohio Valley will play the winner of No. 3 Ferris State (15-3-3) and No. 6 McKendree (13-4-1) on Saturday (Nov. 10) at noon in Big Rapids, Mich.

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