SOU women head to Mississippi for NAIA Opening Round
While the Southern Oregon women’s soccer team may have been granted new life and its first crack at national postseason play, it did not have the luxury of being picky about its destination: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the home field of the defending NAIA champions.
The Raiders (11-5-3) have a lot of work to do if they wish to keep the party going through the weekend, starting at 11 a.m. Friday with the Campbellsville (Ky.) Tigers (12-5-0), another at-large team from the Mid-South Conference. The winner of that game will play at 11 a.m. Saturday against the host of the NAIA Championships Opening Round Hattiesburg Bracket, top-ranked William Carey (Miss.) (18-1), the Southern States Athletic Conference champion.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: This season, for the first time, the NAIA Tournament expanded from 31 to 46 teams, 45 of which will be in action this weekend in the Opening Round. The top seeds at 15 different sites will play the winners of matchups between the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, and the champion of each Opening Round bracket will join national host Mobile (Ala.) at the 16-team final site — Orange Beach, Alabama — from Dec. 2-7.
After being eliminated by Rocky Mountain (Mont.) in penalty kicks in the Cascade Conference Tournament semifinals last Wednesday, the Raiders had to wait until Monday’s bracket reveal to learn they had received one of 19 at-large bids. They finished fifth in the CCC regular-season standings at 7-3-2, but they helped their case during non-conference play with upsets of seventh-ranked Westmont (Calif.), 11th-ranked Vanguard (Calif.) and NCAA Division II team Sonoma State (Calif.). Those wins and an active seven-game unbeaten streak lifted them to No. 34 in the NAIA’s Modified Ratings Percentage Index (MRPI), which likely tipped the scale in their favor in the eyes of the NAIA Soccer Championship Selection Committee.
The Raiders are in the tournament for the first time, while William Carey is making its 11th appearance and Campbellsville is making its second. The task ahead is a daunting one: Since the Opening Round was implemented in 2008, the top overall seed has gotten through every year.
- The Raiders have shut out seven consecutive opponents and gone 687 minutes with giving up a goal. They rank 13th in the NAIA with 11 total shutouts, the second-highest total in team history. Their keeper platoon of senior Kailey Lemon and Jessie Selby has posted an SOU-record save average of .878.
- Last week at the CCC Championships banquet, senior defender Jazmin Shaffer was named to the All-CCC first team. Senior midfielder Aislinn Waite and freshman forward Baylee Touey earned second-team recognition, and junior midfielder/defender Brionna Wood received honorable mention. Touey is the team’s points leader with eight goals and two assists, scoring more than any SOU freshman in 15 years.
- Senior forward Misty Martinez notched her seventh game-winning goal in the last two seasons in the CCC Tournament quarterfinals — a golden goal that saved the season in the 94th minute against Northwest (Wash.). Martinez has tallied five goals in SOU’s last five games and six on the season.
- SOU’s seven-game unbeaten streak is tied for the longest in team history.
- In their season opener, the Raiders defeated Westmont, which went on to share the Golden State Athletic Conference title with another Raider victim, Vanguard. Among Westmont’s 14 wins was a 3-0 decision on Sept. 19 against William Carey, which stands as WCU’s only loss of the season.
- The Tigers are back in the field after first appearing in 2015, when they defeated Ashford (Iowa) in the Opening Round. They earned an at-large bid despite a 5-3 conference record, finishing 38th in the MRPI and receiving votes in the final NAIA Top 25 coaches’ poll.
- They’ve dropped four of their last seven after a 9-1 start, failing to score more than one goal in any game during the late stretch.
- They’ll feature 10 international players from seven countries: Canada, England, Korea, Paraguay, Serbia, Spain and Sweden.
- Forwards Molly Hall (10 goals, 2 assists) and Lakin Walls (6 goals, 5 assists) were All-Mid-South first-team selection. They’ve helped the Tigers outscore opponents a combined 63-13, though 45 of those goals were scored across five games.
About William Carey
- The Crusaders top both the MRPI and the NAIA Top 25 coaches’ poll rankings, having won the Southern State Conference with an 8-0 record and outscored opponents a combined 57-13. Since their loss to Westmont, they’ve won 11 straight, though they needed overtime to defeat Martin Methodist (Tenn.) in the SSAC Tournament championship.
- Junior midfielder Ana Paula Santos is an All-American and the reigning NAIA Tournament MVP. She’s compiled 15 goals and seven assists this season and 40 goals and 13 assists in her career. Silvia Leonessi, a forward, owns five goals and ranks sixth in the NAIA with 17 assists.
- WCU’s roster is stuffed with 21 international players, pulling from 12 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden and Venezuela.
- The Crusaders are making their fourth consecutive national tournament appearance. Last year, they knocked out Eastern Oregon in the Round of 16.