Tiger women in regional first round
By KLINT SPILLER
Statistically, the Fort Hays State University and University of Central Oklahoma women's soccer teams are pretty equal.
FHSU (14-6-1) finished second in the conference in goals scored per game (2.1) while UCO was third with 2.0. The Bronchos (15-2-3) tied for second in goals allowed, giving up 0.7 per match, while FHSU was fourth with 0.9
The two teams will face off at 1 p.m. today in the first round of NCAA Division II playoffs at the regional host site Pitch at Gage Towers in Mankato, Minn.
It's the first playoff appearance for FHSU in its 2-year-old program's history. FHSU is the No. 6 seed while UCO is the No. 3 seed. The winner will face No. 2 seed Minnesota State University-Mankato, ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division II, at 1 p.m. Sunday at the same location.
FHSU soccer coach Craig Shaw said it has been a surreal experience.
"There are NCAA Division II national championship posters hanging everywhere, and I think it's really starting to get the girls to feel like they are part of something special," Shaw said.
Though each team is near the top of the league in offense and defense, UCO actually has out shot the Tigers in their two meetings this season by a combined margin of 27-14.
But despite that, FHSU has finished 1-1 against the Bronchos, including a 2-1 double overtime in the semifinals of the MIAA Tournament. The Tigers won the tournament by defeating the top-seeded teams in order to secure a playoff berth.
One of the primary reasons why FHSU has found success against these solid teams has been the play of its defense, Shaw said.
Sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Barnaba leads the conference with a 0.857 save percentage.
Barnaba served as a backup last season to Kelsey Grey, but Grey injured her knee and has missed the year upon receiving a medical redshirt. The Tigers rotated between Barnaba and freshman Rachael Schaad, but Barnaba has seen the most work in front of goal, playing in 13 of the Tigers' 21 matches.
"I think that is one of the reasons why Nicole has done so well," Shaw said. "She has a great goalkeeper battling her."
Barnaba has played particularly well in the post-season.
In the MIAA Tournament, she started in all three matches, faced 17 total shots on goal and saved 15 of them.
However, Shaw said it is a team game and the back line has done a good job of making shots difficult.
"They limit other teams chances and make shots harder for the other team," Shaw said.
To get a second win against UCO, Shaw said the Tigers will have to play well on defense and stop the Bronchos' top players from getting the ball. UCO senior forward Brittni Walker is No. 9 in the league in goals per game (0.40).
"They are very, very athletic," Shaw said. "... We did a very good job against them last time of keeping the ball ourselves and keeping it away from their athleticism."
So far this post-season, FHSU has played its best soccer of the season, winning its past five matches -- the longest unbeaten streak in the team's young history.
"These girls here have such great fight in them," Shaw said. "They want to achieve something and be recognized for how good they are. They were ready to go out and prove it to teams."
Top players arrested
Two of the FHSU's top players were arrested early Nov. 1. Senior forward Sade Humphrey, 23, and senior midfielder Cindy Benitez, 22, were arrested at 2:13 a.m. in connection with disorderly conduct on the 200 block of West 10th, according to the Hays Police Department.
The arrests happened a day prior to the MIAA semifinal match against UCO. Shaw said punishments will be handed out to Humphrey and Benitez following the post-season.