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Anticipation. It took 11 months, nine games and two overtime periods, but Colorado College finally snapped its record winless streak for women's soccer by opening the season with authority last weekend.
After the longest draught in CC's venerable 25-year tradition of Division 1 soccer, the Tigers stormed Stewart Field on Friday and Sunday, winning a pair of games against the University of New Mexico and Belmont University.
The season opener against UNM was a tense, well-played game that saw the Tigers improve dramatically over the course of the game. Freshman goalie Kristin Masunaga kept the ball out of the net for all of two 45-minute halves before going into two sudden-death overtime periods in a still scoreless tie.
The Lobos were a worthy match to challenge the Tigers' clean, tight approach to the game, though CC controlled the ball for most of the first half and both overtimes, ultimately outshooting UNM 22-15. They played a control game, with an abundance of good passing and a dearth of panic, even as time ran out period by period. For a team with only three returning seniors, the Tigers showed remarkable maturity and composure as the clock ran out and tension mounted.
Their confident approach paid off with 31 seconds left in the final sudden-death overtime, a half-minute away from a tie and a 10th consecutive winless outing. Kris Kifer, one of the omnipresent defenders, sent a header toward the net, and Rebecca Carroll scored the first and only goal of the day to bring victory home for the Tigers.
In her debut college game, first-year student Carroll registered a team-high six shots and one big goal, giving the fans something to talk about. The spillover crowd -- two weeks before the first day of school -- was tallied at 211, none of whom seemed disappointed that the players didn't rip off their jerseys at the exhilarating victory
"I don't even remember," Carroll laughed after the game, trying to re-create the sequence that resulted in the game-winning goal. "Kifer headed it, and I kicked it in."
Carroll praised the cohesiveness of the team, and concluded that the transition from her California high school to a Division 1 contender was not overly stressful. "It doesn't feel like freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors," she elaborated, stressing the unity of the team around a single goal.
The early-season hustling took its toll on Carroll and her teammates, and although they came back strong in overtime, they were a bit slow on their feet as regulation play came to an end and a bit tentative in challenging UNM's possessions. One Tiger ceaselessly on the prowl was junior midfielder Kasey Clark, last year's leading scorer and a potent force on the offense. Clark shared the six-shot lead with Carroll, orchestrating an awe-inspiring passing game along with cohorts Kyrsten Wilde and Sydney Stoner, who scored one and two goals respectively on Sunday against Belmont.
"This is the best our team has ever looked," Clark commented. "It's because of our coach, for one. He's helped mold our team. We always had a lot of potential," she observed, but now she is looking forward to finally watching that potential come to fruition this season.
Clark cited "scoring more; finishing opportunities" as a primary goal for the immediate future, and Sunday's 5-0 shut-out suggests the Tigers quickly made the necessary adjustments, improving their scoring percentage from 5 percent to 19 percent in less than 48 hours..
Despite a disappointing 7-12-1 record last year, the Tigers are optimistic that new head coach Greg Ryan will return the team to the prominent position they once held in the upper ranks of the NCAA. In 11 seasons coaching at the University of Wisconsin and Southern Methodist University, Ryan compiled a .719 winning percentage, making six NCAA Championship Tournament appearances, including two quarterfinals, one semifinal and one final.
"I was really, really happy," Ryan said about Friday's victory. "I've been trying to get them in the habits I want," he continued, pleased with the progress in two short weeks and within the game itself, reiterating: "We're learning so fast."
"We definitely deserve the win," Ryan asserted after the nearly two complete hours of tension-filled soccer. "Our theme this year is Tiger Pride. You saw a lot of that today. You saw a huge effort from everyone."
Ryan was particularly pleased with his team's success on the air balls and their ability to get back into the attack after recovering possession. "It was good to play overtime and win," he concluded, noting that such a win "builds more character than a regulation win."
There is character building in losses also, but these Tigers wouldn't know about that.
CC Women's Soccer Home and Local Games, 1999
Sun, Sept. 5 vs. ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM, 1 p.m.
Fri, Oct. 8 vs. COLGATE UNIVERSITY, 3:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct. 15 vs. FLA INTERNATIONAL, @ Sky Sox Stadium 6 p.m.
Sun, Oct. 17 vs. UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND, 2:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct. 29 vs. UNIVESITY OF ILLINOIS, 3 p.m.
Sun, Oct. 31 vs. AFA @ Air Force Academy, 1 p.m.