Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference women’s soccer has been a topsy-turvy roller coaster from start to finish.
Take that ride and bottle it into one weekend, with each game carrying major NCAA Tournament implications, and it’s bound to be a runaway train.
So strap in.
The Fort Lewis College women’s soccer team will open the RMAC Tournament on the road as the 5-seed and will play the fourth-seeded UC-Colorado Springs Mountain Lions at 4:30 p.m. today. Both teams likely need wins, perhaps a couple of them, to shore up an NCAA Tournament spot in a crowded fight for all six spots in the South Central Region.
“I feel as if it’s so tight that the only way to really look at it is we need to go and win the conference tournament,” FLC head coach Damian Clarke said in a phone interview Monday. “I think we all like our chances if we win this first game.”
Fortunately for the Skyhawks, RMAC women’s soccer produces perhaps the most wide-open postseason tournament out of any of the league’s sports. Take FLC for example: The Skyhawks finished fifth despite having 12 overall wins and eight in conference. They finished just two wins shy of top-seeded Regis and No. 2 Colorado School of Mines and may have been playing this game at home if not for a wild finish against Regis.
That game saw three goals in the final minute of regulation, including one from midfield, as Regis rallied for a miracle 3-3 draw with FLC. The 10 seconds between Elena Benavides’ go-ahead goal for FLC and Marissa Davis’ midfield equalizer for Regis was the second shortest time between goals in NCAA Division II women’s soccer history. And the 17 seconds between Sade Akindele’s equalizer and Benavides’ goal is 12th all-time, according to the NCAA record books.
Such a finish could prove tough to get over, and Clarke was honest about it, saying he wasn’t sure when he’d know if his players had moved past it or not.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know that I’ll know until we run into a bit of adversity again or score a goal and roll with it,” he said.
UCCS defeated FLC in the teams’ only matchup of the regular season Sept. 23 in Durango. Hannah Rather scored a rebound goal in overtime to hand FLC its first loss (1-0) of the season in a battle of then-ranked teams.
FLC hasn’t had nearly as much trouble finding the net since then. In their last five games, the Skyhawks have scored 17 times, good for more than three goals per game over that span, and they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven contests.
All that said, let the wild RMAC ride begin.
“I like to think the kids will be physically hardened if we can get through this first game,” Clarke said.