End of the road for Lions

Abbey Hellem fights off Valdosta State’s Kim Caitlin Alderman during the first round of the NCAA Division II South Regional Nov. 9 in Pensacoloa, Fla.

by Staff Writer Matt Wilson

The UNA soccer team ended their season Nov. 11 in Pensacola, Fla., at the hands of West Florida, falling 4-2 in the NCAA south regional semifinal.

This was the fourth straight appearance in the NCAA regional tournament for the Lions. After the weekend, UNA has a 2-4 record in NCAA tournament play.

The Lions held out for a 1-0 win over Valdosta State Nov. 9 in the opening round of the south regional as Morgan Grace recorded five saves while keeping a clean sheet. Jennifer Osmond scored her 10th goal of the season to put the Lions up, after cleaning up a melee in front of the VSU net following a corner kick.

UNA moved on to face UWF Nov. 11 in the semifinal round of the south regional. For the third time this season, the Lions matched up against West Florida, this time on their opponent’s home field. The Lions had lost 4-1 earlier in the season at home and, just a week prior, lost 4-0 in the GSC tournament final.

Head coach Graham Winkworth explained what they tried differently as far as tactics.

“Initially I wanted to keep things tight and allow them to sit back in their end of the pitch,” Winkworth said. “What let us down was defending the set pieces. I thought we played great in open play.”

Senior midfielder Nikki Brown said they wanted to try something different against West Florida after their first two meetings.“We wanted to sit back and force them to make mistakes,” Brown said. “This time we wanted to wait for them to send the long ball and go from there.”

Chloe Roberts netted her 17th goal of the season in the opening minute of play to put UNA up 1-0.

“Chloe’s goal was exactly what we needed,” Brown said. “But we kept the mentality that it was still 0-0.”

As the game settled in, the Argonauts found their way and brought the score level at the 20-minute mark. Four minutes later, West Florida found the net from a corner kick. With 15 minutes left in the first half, the UWF goalkeeper sent a long punt downfield that bounced over the Lions’ back line. An Argonaut ended up with it in the UNA box before assisting the third UWF goal of the half.

“In the second half, being 3-1 down, I really wanted us to play high up on the field and pressure them,” Winkworth said. “I think the girls did such a good job of that and giving all they had.”

The Lions came out in the second half down 3-1 but they were far from giving up. Both teams came out cautious yet still threatening to score more goals. Jo Chubb found Chloe Richards numerous times early in the second half, sending her down the left side and threatening the goal. Brown found space on the right side and whipped crosses into the box, looking for Roberts or Osmond.  

In the 54th minute, Osmond scored her 11th goal of the season and second goal of the tournament when she connected on an assist from Chubb. The energy from bringing the score to 3-2 was short-lived as UWF scored three minutes later off a free kick.

“After Jen (Osmond) scored to make it 3-2, there was definitely a buzz going for us, but that free kick goal for them just killed it for us,” Winkworth said.

The final 30 minutes saw emotional play from the Lions as they fought to preserve their season. Emotions may have gotten the best of senior Katie Crosby as she was given a red card for retaliating to a foul by a UWF player. Even while playing a player down for the last portion of the game, the Lions kept the pressure on and threw as many people forward as they could to try and find the net. In the end, UNA fell 4-2 to perhaps one of their biggest foes now.

Brown explained her thoughts on the season.

“We’ve been a close team all year and I love this team,” Brown said. “I do think we had a good season. Obviously, I wish we could have continued further into the tournament, but I wouldn’t change this season for the world.”

Winkworth said he is proud of the effort and the class that the team showed all season.

“I’m extremely proud of the ladies for playing how they did,” Winkworth said. “I’m proud of the effort and the class that they showed all year long, because that is something that I stress to them.  

“This has been my favorite year as a coach. This team has changed my life as well as the soccer program at UNA.”