DYLAN FOREMAN; Sports Editor; email@example.com
The Pacific Lutheran University women’s soccer team entered into the NCAA Division III tournament in California last Saturday. Though they lost to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges and were eliminated after the first round, their season proved to be a stepping stone to becoming the successful and selfless team they were determined to be at the beginning of the season.
Throughout the tenure of head coach Seth Spidahl, the Lutes have fallen short of winning the Northwest Conference title on a consistent basis, allowing their crosstown rival, the University of Puget Sound, to win it every year since 2002. This year the Lutes captured the title for themselves, earning a bid to the national tournament, which hasn’t been done since 1992.
“It seems almost unreal to have won the conference, because it’s something that we have worked towards for so long and come so close to in previous years,” senior Kelly White, a defender and first team Northwest Conference honoree said. “The fact that we were able to completely ‘finish’ this conference season is just so much more gratifying.”
It started with one word since January of last year: “finish.” Coach Spidahl ingrained the word into his team’s mindset before this season was even close to beginning. With the adversity they had faced in previous seasons including injuries and key losses in crucial times, overcoming those challenges would prove to be a central theme in the team’s performance.
“We’ve had great seasons in the past, but we’ve never been able to finish it out. This year those memories were in the back of our minds, but I think what makes this season so special is how we were able to grow from them and be strong throughout the entire season,” White explained. “We took on the challenges given to us in each game, and any adversity that we faced is hard to pick out because we didn’t allow ourselves to make it an excuse.”
The Lutes (16-1-4) dominated the stat sheet leading up to a conference championship. In the Northwest Conference, junior Machaela Graddy led in points and goals, senior Lena Moreno led in assists, and goalkeeper senior Takara Mitsui led in save percentage. If anything, it looked promising all season. However, with a combination of returning veterans recovering from injury, returning key contributors from last year, two Division I transfers and first-year players in the rotation, adversity could have easily come from within the team dynamic regarding who would play and contribute. The Lutes handled the transition gracefully.
The concept of team became the focal point of Coach Spidahl’s philosophy for this season. Everyone has their role and everyone will accept their role so that the team can succeed, not the individual.
“We had so many people who scored and assisted and played a big part in our goals that were scored,” Graddy said. “If someone ever made a mistake we worked on uplifting each other instead of scolding each other or tearing each other down.”
Throughout the course of the season, it didn’t matter that Graddy lead in points or that Mitsui was a consistent NWC Defender of the Week. What mattered to the players were the individual contributions to the team that would allow for them to make it into the postseason.
“I love my teammates and coaches like they are my family, and when you’re out on the field fighting for people that you care about so deeply, you’re willing to do anything for them,” White pointed out. “It’s not about stats or who is scoring the goals. We’re all united in working for a common goal.”
Despite the loss, they achieved their goal of making the postseason. Through the team achievements implemented throughout the season, overcoming adversity and being selfless teammates, none of them hung their heads in defeat. Instead they came together as a group of individuals who achieved what they set out to do: win conference and play for each other.