Women win big on Senior Day, spurned from postseason
THE SANTA CLARA
November 13, 2014
As the sun beat down on the pitch Saturday afternoon at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Santa Clara women’s soccer team stepped onto the field with one thing in mind: winning.
Despite notching another conference win and solidifying second place in the West Coast Conference, the NCAA selection committee failed to award the team a shot at the postseason tournament.
But on Saturday, the atmosphere was electric as the Broncos prepared to take on Saint Mary’s College on their home turf. That energy translated into the game right from the start, with Santa Clara going up 1-0 from a goal by redshirt sophomore Ashley Doyle in the fifth minute.
The rest of the first half saw the Broncos and Gaels fighting back and forth, with both teams unable to find their tempo.
Santa Clara outperformed St. Mary’s in shots on goal 3-2 in the first half, but were only able to convert one of those opportunities. Going into halftime, the score remained 1-0 in the Broncos’ favor.
The second half marked a turning point for Santa Clara, who came back on the field re-energized with a new sense of purpose.
They knew the 1-0 lead they were holding was simply not enough. In the 51st minute, senior Sofia Huerta made her presence felt with an unassisted goal to put the Broncos up 2-0.
Twenty minutes later, Huerta finished another opportunity on a beautiful pass from fellow senior Katie Speidel to give the team a 3-0 lead and keep NCAA tournament dreams alive.
“I liked that memory,” she said. “When (Huerta) finished the pass, then hugged me and said ‘I love you’ – it was just very fitting for the day, I think.”
At the end of the 90 minutes, Santa Clara walked away from Buck Shaw with a three-goal shutout.
Head Coach Jerry Smith was especially proud of his seniors after the game.
“I’m so happy for those guys,” he said. “They came into school together and they’re seniors together and for them to be on the field toward the end and score a goal together was really great.”
Speidel cited that final goal as her favorite of the season.
Overall, the three seniors agreed that it was their teammates, not the number of wins or losses, that made their season so great. Speidel said the win was “especially incredible” because she was able to share it with this team.
“It’s amazing because we play with such amazing girls and Buck Shaw is an awesome stadium,” Huerta said. “So it was a good last game.”
The happiness from Saturday faded after Monday night’s announcement that the team would not make the postseason for the second time since 1989 and the first time since 2007.
Over the controversial snub, Smith expressed his frustration since the University of San Diego made the tournament and were fourth in conference to the Broncos’ second.
“We played them and beat them 3-1 at their field,” Smith said in an interview for the San Jose Mercury News. “That makes it hard. Our RPI is way better than theirs (No. 49 to No. 55). That makes it hard. We have 14 wins to their 10. That makes it hard.”
The committee also looks at how teams fare against common opponents. Santa Clara went 3-0 against common non-conference opponents and San Diego went 0-2-1.
“Why do we have RPI?” Smith asked. “It’s not like we were next to each other. It’s a head scratcher for sure. Our seniors can’t get that back.”
However, the success of the year was not lost on Smith, whose team finished 14-6-0 overall and 7-2-0 in conference play.
“I’ve been here 20 years and not more than 10 of those years have we had more than 10 wins,” he said. “We had a really good season.”
Smith highlighted Huerta’s success, not only over the course of this season, but her past four years as a Bronco. A member of the All West Coast Conference First Team for the past three years, Huerta was also awarded All-American status in her junior season.
Smith said he would be surprised if she didn’t make All-American again this year.
On top of scoring 17 goals over the course of the season, Huerta scored five goals in the last three games, an impressive statistic on its own. She was even named espnW and WCC Player of the Week after her performances last week.
Although Saturday proved to be a big success for the Broncos, it marked the last game for the four seniors on the Santa Clara team. Alyssa Kleiner, Speidel, Kat McAuliffe and Huerta all walked off the pitch together at Buck Shaw one last time.
The failure to make the tournament this year will not hang over the team in the offseason. For the 2015 season, the Broncos will retain over 80 percent of their roster from this year, providing a solid base that will only grow stronger with another year of practice together.
Contact Alli Kleppe at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.