Courtney Wamboldt’s shot Friday against Colorado School of Mines in Golden was unlucky to not find the back of the net to level the score at 1-1. The ball fell to the senior on a crossing pass from Katie Smith, and she was open at the back post. Her shot hit the right frame of the crossbar and stayed out. It was that kind of day for the Fort Lewis College women’s soccer team.
The Skyhawks (7-7-3), the No. 7 seed in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, lost 3-0 to the second-seed Orediggers in the quarterfinals Friday afternoon in Golden. It brought an end to an otherwise strong finish to the season.
FLC finished .500 for the first time since the 2015 season and made the conference tournament a year after a rare absence from postseason play. Fort Lewis had to battle its way into the tournament, as just three weeks ago the Skyhawks were in 10th place in the standings and were on the verge of missing out on the eight-team playoff for the second time in as many seasons. FLC rattled off four wins in a row, including a 3-2 overtime win against Colorado Mesa, which helped the Skyhawks sneak in.
“I think we’re happy with the effort that this team provided the entire season, and today was no exception,” said FLC head coach Damian Clarke. “Our effort was excellent. Our performance as far as the soccer side wasn’t as good as we’re capable of being. But the growth that this program has made is really encouraging and exciting.”
On Friday, the Orediggers (16-2-1), ranked No. 14 in all of NCAA Division II women’s soccer, opened the scoring in the ninth minute when a cross from Nicole LaTourette deflected off of a Skyhawk defender and went in to make it 1-0.
At the 12:41 mark, FLC sophomore Katie Smith, a Second Team All-RMAC player, had a free kick in ideal range from 25 yards out, but her shot did not dip fast enough and went just over the crossbar. Shortly after, Fort Lewis had another set piece opportunity at the 13:16 mark on a corner kick, but it was cleared away.
The best chance for FLC came in the 14th minute, when Wamboldt’s floater hit the right crossbar.
Mines was able to mount a few more chances, but FLC’s defense held firm, and it was 1-0 at halftime. The Orediggers had 61% possession in the first half.
In the second half, the Orediggers changed their shape, which created more chances. It also led to the second goal of the game through LaTourette in the 51st minute. She took two touches and beat FLC senior goalkeeper Brit Blomso in the right corner.
“I think that it was a tale of two halves for us today,” Clarke said. “In the first half, we did well to create some problems and win some 50-50 challenges up high and in the midfield. We were dangerous on set pieces, but we just couldn’t score today. Mines moved their shape extremely well in the second half and made it really difficult for us to find any footing.”
Fort Lewis created a few chances after but did not truly threaten the RMAC Goalkeeper of the year, Mines’ Shannon Mooney.
Late in the match, Meg Zimmerman wrapped the game up with a goal in the 86th minute.
The Orediggers will play either Dixie State or Metro State University-Denver at noon Sunday in Golden.
The Skyhawks will lose a talented group of nine seniors, including Wamboldt, defender Valerie Maestas and midfielder Emma Patron, both of whom were Second Team All-RMAC selections. The Skyhawks will return a strong group, including freshman goalkeeper Katie Dunbabin, forward Skylar Byrnes and defender Diana Sifuentes.
Clarke said if there’s one major takeaway for the program, it’s that they learned to play with their backs up against the wall and found ways to win.
“The senior class has been brave. They’ve had to deal with a new coaching staff and trust what we’re asking them to do.” Clarke said. “They grew in belief a whole bunch, particularly in the last seven or eight games where they began to believe in themselves. This is always going to be a program that expects to earn a trophy. Those things are realistic, and I’d like to think that at least every four years, if not more, we’re going to bring a trophy home. The freshmen and sophomores have that mindset that we’re good enough. This group has definitely grown in that mindset, and it’s exciting for the program moving forward.”