From the opening whistle Sunday at FHSU Soccer Stadium, the Fort Hays State women’s soccer team imposed their will on the Missouri Southern Lions. It took just minutes for the Tigers to record their first of 26 shots on afternoon that saw the them collect their first MIAA victory win a convincing 2-0 victory.
After a disappointing 2-1 loss Friday to Southwest Baptist, a determined Tiger squad outshot the Lions 26-5, including 14-1 advantage in the opening half. Senior forward Kylee Loneker said the team has a special feeling even before kickoff that they would have a successful Sunday showing.
“By us connecting and playing as that family unit that we might have forgotten a little bit on Friday, it definitely showed today,” Loneker said. “It was just a different fell even in the warm up. We were just like, ‘OK, we’re ready to do this. We’re ready to go.’ We were connecting passes and everybody was just playing not only for themselves but for the unit. It showed on the field obviously by winning.”
Senior forward Jordan Hester put the Tigers on the board in the 20th minute when freshman defender Jessica Babyak found Hester all alone in the middle of the field. On the breakaway, Hester took a few lengthy dribbles and fired the shot passed Missouri Southern goalie Shawnee Phillips into the far post for her second goal of the year. Hester led all players with five shots, with Loneker just behind with four shots of her own.
FHSU head coach Craig Shaw talked with his team about getting off to a faster start before Sunday’s game and Hester’s goal marked the earliest of the season this far for the Tigers. Prior to Sunday, the quickest goal came in the 34th minute for Shaw’s squad.
“For the first time in a couple games we actually started strong in the first 20 minutes. That was very important. It’s what I asked them to do and they did it,” said Shaw, the only head coach in the five-year history of the women’s soccer program. “... I think we can beat anybody if we score first, we’ve got the type of team that can close out a game. The problem with us in the past few games is we started slow, let them score first, that type of thing. If we can play and win the first 20, we’re gonna win the game.”
That was the case Sunday. Loneker sealed the deal for the Tigers when she took a ball down the right side of the field and put it past Phillips from 10 yards out for her third goal of the year with sophomore midfielder Jasmine Beaulieu providing the assist.
Despite the Tigers finishing just two of their 13 shots on goal, including multiple chances from close range, Loneker said the team is accomplishing more than getting off a high volume of shots. The Tigers’ 26 shots is their most since Sept. 7 of last season.
“It was just go out there and go as hard as you can. Our main goal is to play as a family,” Loneker said. “By us playing as family, that means we are not playing for ourselves, we’re playing to work hard for the person next to you. We’re trying to pass to feet because that person deserves that ball to feet. … We’re all thinking of each other instead of ourselves.”
Looking at the full body of work Sunday, Shaw did not have much to nitpick about other than his team’s finishing.
“I think we still gotta take an extra step further with being a little more clinical in front of goal,” Shaw said. It was a joy to watch them pass the ball around, girls coming off the bench and stepping up. It was a good squad performance.”
Loneker agrees with Shaw that the team must work on finding the back of the yet, especially against their upcoming oppoents.
“There’s definitely more places to tweak. We wouldn’t be the team we are if we aren’t always progressing and always trying to get better,” Loneker said. “We’re definitely better off than we were Friday. We tried to shoot 26 times and only got two goals.”
Fort Hays (4-4, 1-1 MIAA) moved back to .500 overall and in conference with home matches against a struggling Lindenwood squad and a not-so-struggling Central Missouri team. The Tigers welcome the Lions (1-5-2, 0-2 MIAA) to Hays for a Friday night contest with Lindenwood having lost their last four games, including a 7-0 loss to the Jennies.
Central Missouri (8-0, 2-0 MIAA) will come to Hays for a Sunday matinee contest as the No.1-ranked team in the country with one of the most potent offenses in the nation, recording more than four goals per game while allowing just two goals on the season with six shutouts.
Central Missouri has recorded six or more goals four times this season, including a 7-0 win against Lindenwood, while the Tigers have accomplished the feat just three times in their existence. FHSU has not gone done easily in their history with UCM, with a 1-4 record that includes four one-goal losses and a 2-1 double-overtime win in the 2012 MIAA championship match.
With what he learned about his team in Sunday’s match, Shaw is taking the positives into a crucial week of practice with lofty goals for the next week of play.
“At least we’re creating the chances,” Shaw said. “It’s a good problem to have. We’ll work at it this week and then maybe we can go out there and beat the No. 1 in the nation next week.”