Playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007, the Southern Miss soccer team finished as the runner-up in the 2018 Air Force Reserve Women’s Soccer Championship following two wins in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds and a loss in the championship game.
“This is the first time in a long while that a Southern Miss team has been to this point,” Southern Miss Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare said. “We took on the number three and the number two [seeds], in the final we played the number one team. We showed character in our mentality in terms of playing with the will to win and going forward and being aggressive.”
In the quarterfinal round of the tournament on Oct. 31, Southern Miss faced off against UAB, a team that the Golden Eagles lost to by a score of 2-0 on Oct. 21.
The sixth-seeded Golden Eagles and third-seeded Blazers played a scoreless first half of the contest. The deciding goal came with 11:15 left to play in the second half when Southern Miss sophomore Miah Zuazua hit a goal into the back of the net. The Golden Eagles held on the rest of the way to advance to the semifinal round, where the team faced Florida Atlantic.
Against FAU, Southern Miss was out shot in the contest 16-5, including 4-2 with shots on goal. However, senior Stephanie Garcia’s corner kick at the 41st minute found the goal on a curl to give Southern Miss a 1-0 lead. That lead held for the rest of the game, allowing Southern Miss to advance to the championship round for the first time in school history.
Additionally, the team earned its 13th win and 11th total shutout of the season, both program records. Sophomore goalie Kendell Mindnich also earned her seventh individual shutout of the season, which breaks Anna Snyder’s record of six shutouts that was set in 2003.
“She was magnificent. It’s amazing that all year she’s made two or three saves that has kept us in the game,” El-Zare said. “She’s come a long way in terms of preparing and working on her game. [I’m] really excited for her and for the team.”
In the championship game, No.1 seed North Texas struck first on the scoreboard with a goal via a penalty kick in the 12th minute in the first half. That score held until Southern Miss senior Ola Akinniyi tied the match up with a goal at the 79th minute. That goal allowed the two teams to head to overtime.
Both teams played a scoreless first overtime period, but North Texas’s Lauryn Bruffett scored off of a header in the 105th minute in the second overtime, sealing the win and conference title for North Texas.
With the loss, the Golden Eagles finish the best season in program history as the conference runners-up and a 13-6-1 record.
After the team’s performance this season, El-Zare mentioned that a standard that has been set for the program now.
“The demands are high not only for the returning players but for the next players that are going to come in, [even] 10 years from now,” El-Zare said. “It’s not going to be easy, and you’re going to have to come in with a certain quality and certain expectations.”