For the first time since 2005, the Northwestern State soccer team earned a top two seed in the conference tournament, as it knocked off Central Arkansas 2-1 Friday night at the Lady Demon Soccer Complex.
Sophomore Norma Trejo directed in a pass by Kalee Williams early and senior Jayden Wheeler scored on a perfect centering pass by Trejo. The two goals in the first 29 minutes were enough to earn the victory.
NSU (11-7-1, 8-2-1) has 25 conference points for the first time since going 10-2 in 2002 and it has eight conference victories for the first time since going 8-4 in 2004. The Lady Demons also reached 11 overall wins for the first time since 2009.
“We knew if we took care of business, we would be in this position (to be the No. 2 seed),” co-head coach Jess Jobe said. “We’re excited to be in this position and finally looking ahead to the conference tournament. I’m pumped about that and I know the team is as well.”
They will take on No. 7 seed Sam Houston State Wednesday in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament. NSU defeated SHSU 1-0 in Natchitoches on Oct. 11.
UCA (5-12-1, 4-7) was eliminated from tournament contention with the loss. The defeat snapped a four-match winning streak for the Bears.
One of the keys for NSU was to start fast since UCA was a desperate team coming in needing three points. The Lady Demons responded with a goal in the third minute.
Kalee Williams was dribbling up the flank and sent it in, and Trejo booted it in from inside the box. Sophomore Karleigh Acosta, making her first career start, started the break near midfield with a great pass to Williams.
It is Trejo’s second goal of the season.
“We did a couple of activities this week to try to get more from us early in the game,” Jobe said. “It’s an area we wanted to get on top of, so I am really happy about that. It was a good, quick start for us.”
NSU kept applying the pressure following the goal, as it attempted six more shots in the next 14 minutes. Freshman Samantha Hanking attempted two of the shots, including one that made it past UCA goalkeeper Clara Bornet, but it was knocked out of harms way before it went it the net by a Bears defender.
UCA had a golden chance to tie in the 19th minute. After a turnover, Jordan Slim attempted a shot that was ticketed to go into the back of the net, but Williams got it out of trouble by kicking it and it hit the crossbar.
Just when the Bears were starting to find their footing, the Lady Demons tacked on another goal. UCA had two shots and controlled possession up until NSU doubled the lead.
The Lady Demons performed one of the prettiest goals of the season in the 29th minute. NSU executed a give-and-go to perfection, as Wheeler passed it to Trejo, who dribbled it and passed it back to Wheeler at the top of the box. The senior sent it home to put NSU in front 2-0.
“Scoring a goal rarely happens for me in a game,” Wheeler. “On my jog back, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this will be my last goal on this field.’ It was awesome because all my teammates came to me because they were so happy for me. It was so nice to get that support from all my teammates.”
It is Wheeler’s second goal of the season and second in three contests.
UCA had chances to tie it, but two shots in the span of a minute by Emma Hawkins were saved by NSU goalkeeper Kayla Bomben. It remained 2-0 after 45 minutes.
The Bears controlled the second half possession, but the NSU defense was up to the challenge. Bomben thwarted UCA attacks multiple times by winning the race to the ball or catching it in traffic before the Bears could get a shot off.
They picked up the heat, and finally got one in the back of the net. Taylor Webb fired one on net from past the box on the right side to put the Bears on the board.
In the final minutes, UCA had shots to tie it up, as it had four shots in the final four minutes. In the 87th minute, Bomben was in a race with Connie Awuku-Darkoh, and Awuku-Darkoh shot one, but Bomben challenged her and was able to save it.
Two Bears shots misfired in the final minute and the Lady Demons escaped with the victory.
Donaldson led NSU with four shots, with one being on goal. Wheeler’s two shots on goal led the team in that category.
Bomben made five saves for the Lady Demons.
UCA won the shot battle 15-12, and 7-6 in shots on goal.
Next up for the Lady Demons is Wednesday in the opening game of the conference tournament against Sam Houston State. The contest begins at 11 a.m.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services