Soccer season comes to an end

North Alabama freshman defender Sarah Ashy attempts to stop a Valdosta State advance in their Oct. 23 meeting in Florence. After claiming the Gulf South Conference tournament championship a year ago, the Lions failed to qualify for the 2016 GSC tournament.

The North Alabama soccer team’s dreams of postseason play came to an abrupt end Oct. 29.

After starting the 2016 season the third-ranked team in the preseason conference poll, the Lions finish with an underwhelming 8-8 record (7-5 Gulf South Conference) after falling to Union 1-0 in Jackson.

UNA will now finish seventh and miss the conference tournament.

“This wasn’t even close to what we wanted,” said junior midfielder Beatriz Fernandes. “I’ve been here for three years, and my experience has been us being at the top. It’s just such a bitter taste to end like this.”

Union (7-4-5, 6-2-4 GSC) was one point behind UNA going into Saturday’s game, as the winner would enter postseason play, while the loser would go home. In the case of a tie, UNA would have held the advantage.

“I think we were the better team,” said UNA head coach Chris Walker. “We had more chances, but it’s just one of those games where we didn’t take our chances. That’s just been the way it has gone (all season).”

Union jumped to fifth place with the win, as West Georgia (11-6-1, 7-4-1 GSC) fell to the final seed. Both teams finished with 22 points, while UNA ended with 21. West Florida (14-4, 11-1 GSC) will host as the top seed.

Walker said the team is better than its record.

“We lost five games by one goal, which is a big difference in being 8-8 and finishing 13-3,” he said. “Our conference is never going to be easy, but we think we are good enough to be in the top six. That’s the frustrating part, but it gives us more to strive for and work for next year.”

Despite missing the conference tournament, the Lions took more shots than their opponents in three of the last four losses, but could not hit the net.

“We out-shot so many teams this year,” Fernandes said. “We definitely got unlucky with the amount of shots we took and didn’t make. It’s a bitter feeling.”

Sophomore midfielder Paige Porter said there are no individuals to blame, but rather the entire team.

“We obviously have the talent,” Porter said. “Everybody is capable of playing as a team, but we didn’t win the games we should’ve won.”

With the season’s end, UNA will lose six seniors, including the team’s leading shot-taker and second-team All-GSC member Ele Costello. The Lions also lose three of their four starters on the backline, including Alyssa Bova, Susan Lang and Samantha Parrish.

Senior forward Stacey Webber and senior midfielder Erica Cervi also graduate from the team, leaving 17 returning lettermen.

Fernandes, who also made the second-team All-GSC team along with Costello and sophomore midfielder Margarida Sousa, said she hopes to take lessons from this season into next year.

“Roller-coasters are not fun, and we had a roller-coaster of results this year,” Fernandes said. “For me, I’m still trying to process the loss to Union, but our next season started on that last whistle.”