Women’s soccer clinches early playoff birth

Published by , Author: Karl Ludwig - Rocket Contributor, Date: October 25, 2018
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Whether dashing down the sideline of James Egli Field in pursuit of a well-placed ball like senior forward Skye Kramer, charging through the heart of the opposing defense to fire off a long-rangeshot like senior forward Brooke Testa, or extending to full body length to deny a free kick like senior goalkeeper Kylie Downs, the seniors of the Slippery Rock women’s soccer team have been running through the conference for almost four years.

Now they are running short on time to leave their mark.

With Indiana University (Pa.) defeating Gannon University Tuesday afternoon, The Rock clinched a spot in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament for the eighth consecutive season.

Head Coach Jessica Griggs has been at the helm for four seasons now, leading the Green and White to a 44-24-6 record with this crop of seniors. Regular season success aside, the current Rock squad has not made an impact on the regional scale—and has not even qualified for the national competition.

“They have been in this position before though, they’ve been in the playoffs every year since we have been here so hopefully that drive to go further in the PSAC playoffs is there because we haven’t gotten far since this class has been a part of the program and we haven’t gotten to the NCAAs. I do think there is a driving motivation,” Griggs said.

Being the first group of players to develop completely from their freshmen seasons, Griggs holds this squad in high regard but always pushes them to live up to that billing and push beyond.

“This is our first four-year class and we’ve developed and created a really good relationship with our six seniors,” Griggs said. “They’re well aware of the expectations on the field and off the field so their ability to lead the group has been really great for us because it now means we have a full circuit of players within our program who really understand what we expect.”

Having a squad of talented, accomplished seniors to coexist with the freshman revolution currently in effect for the Green and White really sets this team apart from others that Griggs has coached in the past few seasons.

“There’s a lot of differences. Every year creates a whole new dynamic of players. Last year we had a really good dynamic in the program because we had enough players in the program who were well—versed in what the expectations were,” Griggs said. “This year is different because we have such a young crew, so I don’t think that I can compare the two.”

Testa and Kramer lead this season’s squad with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Expecting senior leaders to produce big goals in crucial moments is easy to predict on paper but much harder to replicate on the pitch. The Rock has not had to worry about such a scenario. Freshman midfielder Jordyn Minda and freshman forward Rachel Edge round out the top four scorers with 12 and 8 points, respectively. Contributions—especially team leading contributions—from unexpected faces push this group above the expectations of their predecessors.

With a balanced offensive attack led by the senior juggernauts and their freshmen counterparts, a sort of changing of the guard from Testa and Kramer to Minda and Edge, the defensive corps led by junior defender Madison Johnson and sophomore defender Elise Forry has stifled opponents all season to the tune of only 13 goals allowed at a clip of .76 per game.

Ranking fourth in both aforementioned statistics in the PSAC has helped the goalkeeping duo of Downs and freshman Emma Yoder to combine for 10 shutouts with a .74 goals against average and a .865 save percentage. Griggs knows the sky is the limit for this squad, and that keeping their momentum rolling will be the biggest challenge now.

“Right now, we are just trying to create as much confidence as we can with our playing style. That’s what I think will catapult us pretty far, I think the biggest thing we need to do right now is continuing to ride the wave that we are on and do that with confidence,” Griggs said.

With a game left to play against Shippensburg University, seeding in the PSAC Tournament will fluctuate as the final games of the season across the conference wind down. A win against the Raiders would help with PSAC seeding and the improve the possibility of making the NCAA Tournament.

“I think it should help us, but I don’t know if it’s going to put is within the top six just yet. Top six in the region will go to the NCAA Tournament but unfortunately this year, the PSAC completely outdid the MEC so this year it’ll only be the top five in the region going to the tournament and the automatic qualifier from the MEC,” Griggs said. “So realistically we need to be in the top five to get to the NCAAs this year.”

Known for women’s soccer, the PSAC outdid that lofty reputation this year with incredibly strong depth. 10 teams realistically had a shot to qualify for the PSAC Tournament.

“I think the PSAC is so strong and so competitive… Typically 25 points will get you into the PSAC Tournament. This year, we got in yesterday on the Gannon loss, with 29 points. Then if we win on Saturday the most points we can get is 32. We could potentially be the eight seed with 32 points and that’s crazy because that’s a ton of pointsand only four losses.” Griggs said.

Losses to East Stroudsburg University in the PSAC quarterfinals the past two seasons and in the semifinals the year before has ended the year for the Green and White the past three seasons. With less than ideal results in Griggs’ first three seasons, the onus is on their shoulders to buck the trend.

Unable to do anything but simply play their best soccer now, The Rock heads into the PSACs with high expectations – both within the team and from Griggs and her staff – and a strong desire to make a deep run through the conference and make the NCAA Tournament.

For the seniors on this squad, all the trials and tribulations have led to this moment; the time is now for Rock women’s soccer to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and win the PSAC.

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