The women’s soccer team started out with nowhere to go but up. The Pioneers were picked dead last in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) preseason coach’s poll.
The coaches had reason to be skeptical of the Pioneers this season. In 2014 the Pioneers only had three wins. The team was not exactly oozing with expectation.
With many forwards back this year, the team had an optimistic outlook. However, the team was going to need a lot of determination and hard work.
Christine Najjar, junior forward, said she was ready for the challenge.
“I believed we could make it to the conference tournament, but I knew it would take a lot of hard work and dedication,” Najjar said. “Our goal in the beginning of the season was to make it to the tournament, and we were able to accomplish it.”
Not many inside the camp would have predicted what would follow. The team earned a couple of overtime wins over Davis and Elkins and St. Thomas Aquinas. In between those games were close games with Point Park and Maine Fort Kent.
The team’s success demonstrated a shift from some past teams.
Then the Pioneers began to shock the GLIAC. They beat league frontrunners Lake Erie 4-0 and Findlay 1-0.
Najjar said, “In the beginning of our season, teams were confused how we continued to win games. We were expected to finish last in our conference. So, our goal was to shock the GLIAC and show everyone that we aren’t the worst.”
The Pioneers had an attacking style with the likes of Brianna Smith and Christine Najjar making fits for teams. The Pioneer team also had much more. They played as a team and earned respect as a team.
“As teams underestimated us, they began to lose,” Najjar continued. “So, I think our team made a statement. Do not underestimate us. I think that coaches and teams began to respect us as we continued to pull out competitive wins.
Yes, the team was competitive—more so than they have been in a couple of years. The Pioneers maintained class while competing, and they let their results speak for themselves.
Early victories do not tell the story of the whole season, though. After several key wins the women lost seven straight games. Yet, they persevered.
“The difference between last year and this year, I would say, is our chemistry as a team,” Najjar said. “We did not graduate any seniors last year, so we really learned how each other plays. We also provided a lot of competition for our opponents.”
The continued efforts of the team meant the final game of the last season was high-stakes. A win against rival Walsh would secure their goal of being in the GLIAC tournament. It would also send the Cavilers packing. A loss or draw against Walsh would send the Pioneers’ rival through to the tournament.
Najjar said, “I think the defining moment of our season really came down to our game against Walsh. There was a lot of pressure coming into that game because we needed to win in order to make it into the tournament.”
The Pioneers wrote a new story and truly shocked the GLIAC by defeating Walsh.
“We had a lot of support from both our coaches and fans, which really contributed to our success as a team,” Najjar said. “We beat Walsh for the first time in 11 years and made it to the conference tournament for the first time ever, so we made history, which is a huge accomplishment as a team.”
Seth Byrd is the Sports Editor for The Aviso