BEAUMONT, Texas – The top seed for next week’s Southland Conference Women’s Soccer Tournament is on the line at 7 p.m. Friday when the Lamar University Cardinals host the McNeese Cowgirls at the LU Soccer Complex.
The Cardinals (14-3-1 overall, 9-1-0 Southland) have already clinched at least a share of the conference regular-season title, and would wrap up the outright title and the top seed with a win or a tie on Friday. McNeese (12-4-1, 8-2-0) and LU would be co-champions if the Cowgirls win on Friday, with McNeese being the top seed and the Cardinals being the second seed in the tournament. The Cardinals will be making their first appearance in the tournament since 2012, when they lost to Stephen F. Austin in the finals.
“You can’t ask for a much better atmosphere for a game,” second-year LU coach Steve Holeman said. “The top two teams battling for the conference title. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. It’s great that it’s here at LU.”
The Cardinals bring an eight-game winning streak into Friday’s contest. LU comes in off back-to-back shutouts on the road last weekend, blanking Houston Baptist 1-0 on Friday before a 3-0 win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Sunday. McNeese saw its five-game win streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at Houston Baptist on Sunday. The Cowgirls had surrendered only three goals in conference play all season until the loss at Houston Baptist.
“McNeese is a dominant team that is outstanding at defense,” Holeman said. “They’re also potent on offense. We’re going to have to be at our best.”
Friday’s game is also a matchup of the top two scorers in the conference. Savannah LaRicci of McNeese leads the SLC in scoring with 30 points on 11 goals and eight assists. LU’s Kelso Peskin is second with 24 points on seven goals and a school-record 10 assists. In conference play, LaRicci has 23 points on goals and five assists, while Peskin has six goals and five assists for 17 points.
It’s also a showdown between the two goalkeepers who have the best goals-against average in the conference. McNeese’s Emma Roccaforte has a 0.56 goals-against average with six shutouts, while LU’s Lauren Lovejoy sports a 0.99 goals-against average along with a conference-leading and school-record eight shutouts.
The Cardinals are 7-0 at home this season, an unblemished mark they would like to keep intact, especially on senior night, as LU pays tribute to seven seniors, who have helped turn the program around in just one season. The Cardinals were 2-14-3 overall last season, finishing last in the SLC with a 1-7-3 mark. That lone conference win was a 1-0 decision over McNeese in the season finale, also LU’s senior night.
This year’s Cardinals are the first in SLC soccer history to go from worst to first in one season.
“Nobody on this team has ever been to the conference tournament, so our sights were definitely set on achieving that,” Holeman said. “Once we clinched a spot, our team knew there was more work to be done. They continued to take it one game at a time and bring their best effort each time out. This is a special group.”
Friday’s forecast calls for a game-time temperature of 60 degrees with a 45 percent chance of rain and winds out of the north at 13 mph.
“That will certainly be different than the heat we have played in for most of the season,” Holeman said. “Cool weather is better when you’re doing all that running.”
SENIOR NIGHT: Prior to the game, the Cardinals will honor seniors Tori Alaniz, M.J. Eckart, Lauren Lovejoy, Marie Lund, Ana Moreno, Samantha Moreno and Laura Parra, who will be playing their final game at the LU Soccer Complex.