BY CAYDEN SANDERS
PHOTOS BY MADISON SHAPLAND
After securing a top-four seed in the 2022 MIAA Women’s Soccer Tournament, the Fort Hays State women’s soccer team played host to Central Oklahoma in the first round of the tournament on Sunday night. With the game being a high-stakes contest for both programs, the Tigers won the match convincingly with a 2-0 decision to extend their season.
“Tonight was such a dominant performance for us tonight,” FHSU Head Coach Tyson John said. “We have struggled in other games, and to come out against a historically good UCO [Central Oklahoma] team and win with the conviction and the way we won I couldn’t be any more proud of this team.”
For FHSU (11-1-7), this game meant everything to the players, the first-year coach, and the fans who came to the match.
Sunday night’s game was only the third home post-season match hosted by FHSU women’s team since its formation in 2011 and the first time hosting since 2016 – arguably one of the best seasons in FHSU women’s soccer history.
“The reason why I wanted this match to be played at 6:30 was because I wanted to get as many people here as possible, especially since we haven’t hosted since 2016,” John said. “We wanted to get under the lights because it is a big deal and tonight’s weather was perfect for a soccer match.”
In the match, the Tigers and Bronchos came out of the first half scoreless, with only 11 shots taken in the first half and only three saves total. The two teams looked to play a game of chess and played a perfect soccer match throughout the first half.
“During halftime, I told the girls that I think we have the front foot in this game, and if we get one in the back of the net, then I want to push for two,” John said, “I did not want us to play conservative throughout this game to put us into harm’s way, and I told them this game would be better if we played on their half of the field.”
As the second half got underway, the Tigers blitzed Central Oklahoma (11-4-4) putting on eight more shots in the second half, scoring once in the 55th min of the match as Hannah Mares earned her 8th goal of the season.
“This is a big win for us; UCO they are always in the tournament every year, and they are always ranked high, so to knock them down is really nice, especially with a draw earlier this season,” Mares said. “It was great to get the goal; we wanted to keep the pressure on them, and my goal was the first to find the back of the net.”
Not long after that, in the 68th minute, the Tigers struck again as Monserrat Diaz substituted for Mares in the 68th minute and earned her 5th goal for Fort Hays State.
The Tigers’ defense stepped up in the second half as the Bronchos shot four times. The Bronchos did not go without a fight as they continued to pressure the defensive line for the Tigers the rest of the game as the clock inched closer to the end of the match. Isabel Robben and the Tigers earned their 11th shutout of the season with the win.
“It’s massive against a team like UCO, and they’re a powerhouse every single year. It’s great to earn the shut-out against them,” Robben said. “I think it shows to the rest of the teams in the MIAA that we are here and that we are serious about being a contender and getting the win for our team.”
For the Tigers, the match with Central Oklahoma was a chance for Fort Hays to prove the question that has been floating around the program since the midway point of the season, “How good are the Fort Hays State Tigers?”
Against the program’s statistics, this is the Tiger’s fourth season since 2011 to earn 11 wins in a season, and in three of those seasons, the Tigers played an all-division two schedule. This year the team is tied for third on the record against a full D2 schedule as 2016 earned 15, and in the 2014 season, the team earned 13 wins. If the Tigers chase the single-season win total, the Tigers will need to win four more matches this season.
Wins aren’t everything for the program, as the Tigers have earned a lot of ties in their matches this season, as Fort Hays is the sole leader in tying in a season with seven. On the other hand, this year’s team has the record for the least amount of losses on the season by any Tiger team in the past, as the Tigers will finish with three at most if the Tigers earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The only two teams that compete with the record set by the present team are the 2014 and 2016 teams, with five losses.
One final program stat the Tigers have a chance to earn is the win percentage in one season. Currently, the team is at .763; the team to beat is the 2016 team and their .717 win percentage.
Within the MIAA, the Tigers are still trying to earn respect as a program, with them being a “newcomer” in the MIAA. As the MIAA has supported Women’s Soccer since 1999, the Tigers were 12 years behind the conference in having a program. Fort Hays has one MIAA tournament championship in the 2012 season. If the Tigers win the tournament, they will tie Central Oklahoma for second most tournaments won, only behind the Jennies of Central Missouri, who have four.
Since the start of the 2010s, this conference has been Central Missouri’s to lose, as the Jennies have been regular season champions twelve different seasons, including this season’s run.
Nationally, the Tigers have only made it to the NCAA Tournament three times in ten years. Two of those seasons made it passed the first round of the NCAA Tournament that year.
Currently, the Tigers are unranked and not receiving votes in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll. But still, in the region poll for the Central Region, the Tigers are currently ranked fifth only behind Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri from the MIAA Conference.
With a lot of season left to play and a trip to Warrensburg looming for the Tigers, the records and accolades collected by the players and team only mean something once everything is said and done.
“For us, we have been talking about it since I arrived last spring, and taking the word purpose as our purpose, and we want to be intentional about what we are doing,” John said.
The Tigers will move on and face the No. 3 team in the nation, Central Missouri, in Warrensburg for the semifinal match-up in the MIAA Tournament. The Tigers and Jennies will start their match at 3 p.m. on Friday.
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