SLC soccer tournament breakdown

Six teams will compete in the Southland Conference tournament that begins today in Beaumont.

Sam Houston State enters the tournament seeded second and will have a first-round bye in the tourney. The Bearkats look to continue on its historic season by winning their first SLC tournament but will have to get through five teams that all gave SHSU tough matches in the season.

All games will be available online at www.southland.org with the championship game broadcasted on ESPN 3.

No. 1 Stephen F. Austin State

Road to the tournament

SFA completed the perfect SLC season by holding an undefeated record through conference to claim the SLC championship. Overall, SFA finished the season 15-2-1 with losses coming to Southeastern Conference opponents No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 25 Arkansas.

Key players

Ladyjacks’ senior forward Zuri Prince is the star player of the Ladyjacks but also the SLC. Prince was named SLC Player of the Year after scoring nine goals to lead SFA and assisting the six. During the SLC season, Prince scored the game-winning goal five times. The rest of the SLC individual honorees accompany Prince: newcomer of the year Christa Robinson, freshman of the year Hanna Barker and coach of the year Wally Crittendan. SFA also added five players to the All-SLC first team and one to the second team.

Meeting with SHSU

The Kats jumped out to an early 1-0 lead against SFA on Oct. 5 in Nacogdoches. Sophomore forward Allie Johnson found her sixth goal of the season in the eighth minute of the match when she finished a shot on an empty net. However, the Ladyjacks surged back to get the 2-1 victory over the Kats with goals from Barker and Amanda Doyle.

No. 2 Sam Houston State

Road to the tournament

SHSU finished with a school-record high eight wins in league play and claimed a first-round bye for the first time in school history. SHSU saw losses on the SLC season come to Abilene Christian in the SLC season opener and to rival SFA. The Bearkats did not have the second seed in the bag until a 2-0 defeat on Nicholls State in the last game of the season.

Key players

After struggling on offense early on in the season, SHSU found its chemistry and style upfront early in the SLC season. Breakout star sophomore forward Allie Johnson and junior forward Ashley Alonzo – both All-SLC first team selections – led the SHSU offense. Johnson finished the season with a team-high eight goals on the season, and Alonzo ended the season with six goals, including a hat trick against Incarnate Word. Junior goalkeeper Kylie Hambleton has three straight clean sheets heading into the SLC tournament with contribution from a strong backline: freshman center back Caitlin Schwartz, sophomore center back Megan Bennett and senior outside backs Ashley Fluty and Megan Manis.

No. 3 Houston Baptist

Road to the tournament

HBU had a turn around year in its second season in the SLC. After missing the SLC tournament last season, the Huskies finished this year 7-1-3, falling just short of receiving the second seed in the tournament. HBU received the third seed after defeating Southeastern Louisiana on Sunday 2-1. The two teams will hit each other in the first round of the tournament.

Key players

Senior defender Lindsay Matlock is a speedy left back that can control the flank and give right forwards and midfielders a hard time. Matlock was named to the All-SLC second team along with teammates senior forward Natalie Hager, sophomore defender Kristi O’Brien and senior goalkeeper Haley Lyons. HBU had the most players selected to the second team. Walrath holds a .091 goals against average heading into Beaumont.

Meeting with SHSU

In a battle for second, SHSU and HBU drew to a 0-0 tie last Friday at Pritchett Field. An even matchup on all sides of the ball, the Bearkats could not find the net. Head coach Tom Brown subbed right forwards in-and-out to try to contest Matlock, but the senior defender found a way to limit the Kats’ offense.

No. 4 McNeese State

Road to the tournament

The Cowgirls saw an average season give them a 6-5 SLC record, the fourth seed and a first round match-up with SELU. McNeese almost saw upsets over SFA and HBU during the regular season but fell just short to the victories in overtime of both matches. The Cowgirls had a disappointing 2-0 loss to the second to last place team in conference, Incarnate Word, on Oct. 24.

Key players

McNeese only saw two of its players make an All-SLC team. Sophomore forward Savannah LaRicci and junior defender Haley Lyons were selected to the All-SLC second team. LaRicci is fourth in shots in the SLC with 52 while posing 15 points that ranks her ninth in the conference. Lyons helped a Cowgirls’ defense shutout three opponents in the conference season and six shutouts overall.

Meeting with SHSU

The Cowgirls had a 2-0 lead over SHSU after 45 minutes of play at Pritchett Field on Sept. 28. It only took the Kats seven minutes in the second half to overcome the deficit and eventually take the game 4-2. Johnson and Alonzo split the goals at two apiece. LaRicci recorded her fourth goal of the season in the match when she tiptoed her way through the backline and eventually ripped one past Hambleton in the 27th minute.

No. 5 Nicholls State

Road to the tournament

With ACU ineligible for postseason play, the fifth seed went to Nicholls after a tiebreaker with SELU. The Colonels went 5-6 in the SLC and saw their biggest win come against the Lions in 4-2 fashion on Oct. 31, which clinched the Colonels’ postseason berth. Nicholls will play McNeese in the opening round of the tournament. McNeese took the victory during the season 3-2 on Sept. 19.

Key Players

All-SLC first team selection Spencer Valdespino is a force to be reckoned with on the pitch. The junior forward tied a school record last Friday for most goals in a single game with four against SELU. She is second in the league in shots per game with a 3.31 average and tied for second in goals with nine. Junior Australian midfielder Jess Coates was also selected to the All-SLC first team.

Meeting with SHSU

After picking up a red card in the second half and being forced to play with 10, the Colonels would give up two goals to lose 2-0 in the final game of the season on Sunday. Senior midfielder Madison Bible broke the tie before Bennett added the reinsurance goal later in the half. The Bearkats preserved the shutout and limited Nicholls to only four shots on goal.

No. 6 Southeastern Louisiana 

Road to the tournament

SELU was able to squeeze into the postseason as the sixth seed. The defending SLC tournament champions saw a troubling SLC season after having a remarkable preseason play. SELU finished the SLC season sitting at 5-6 with its biggest win on the season against McNeese 1-0. The Lions finished SLC play on a three-game losing streak to teams all in the SLC tournament.

Key players

Senior defender Chelsea Villaescusa was the lone Lion on the All-SLC first team. Villaescusa helped a Lion defense to eight shutouts on the season, although only three in SLC play. Sophomore Bri Singh and sophomore midfielder Katie Noonan represented the Lions on the All-SLC second team. Singh leads the team in goals with 13 while Noonan leads all Lions in assists with 10.

Meeting with SHSU

The Bearkats were able to defeat the Lions 1-0 in Hammond, La. on Oct. 26. Sophomore forward Maddy Panozzo played a ball to Johnson in the opening minute of the second half, and Johnson took a chance from long range. The rocket made its way to the upper corner of the net to provide the Kats’ lone goal. However, the Lions did limit SHSU to only two shots on goal in the game.

Tournament

SFA and SHSU will relax today and await the winners of the first round matches. No. 3 HBU and No. 6 SELU will open the tournament with their match at 4:30 p.m. Following the match, No. 4 McNeese State and No. 5 Nicholls will take on each other at 7 p.m.

SHSU will kickoff its semifinal against the HBU-SELU winner Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the Lady Cardinal Soccer Complex. SFA will then play the victor of the McNeese-Nicholls match Friday at 7.pm.

The winners of the Friday matches will play each other in the championship Sunday at 1 p.m.

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