Ladyjacks Claim SLC Tournament Title
Nov. 11, 2007
NATCHITOCHES, La. - The Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack soccer team righted a pair of wrongs Sunday afternoon in the Southland Conference Tournament championship game. With their 3-0 victory over McNeese State, the Ladyjacks avenged their only SLC loss of the season and earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2003.
"It's just a fantastic feeling, I really can't describe it," SFA head coach Jaime Frias said. "If you're not involved day-in, day-out with our program, it's hard to understand what we've overcome, with all the injuries and everything else that's gone on this year.
"Even today, we had our back-up goalkeeper in as a field player and three or four other players who were going at 80 percent. For us to come in and post shutouts both games and score four goals in the tournament is just a testament to how badly our girls wanted the title."
Sunday's victory marks the first time in program history for the Ladyjacks to win both the SLC regular-season title and tournament championship. SFA finished the season in a tie with McNeese State, earning an unprecedented fifth Southland Conference title. Entering this year's tournament, SFA had won the outright conference crown twice since its 2003 tournament title but failed to reach the NCAA Championships in either year.
The Ladyjacks rectified that situation Sunday behind two goals by Erika Palmacci and a sterling display of team defense that resulted in SFA's seventh shutout of the season. All seven have come in the last nine games.
After a couple of prime scoring opportunities were turned away by McNeese early in the first half, Palmacci broke the scoreless tie at the 26-minute mark. She got a high cross from junior midfielder Lauren Fricks who had broken free in the right flank of the Cowgirl defense. Palmacci leaped in the goal box and headed the ball past McNeese's Shelby Money for her team-best 13th goal of the season.
The sophomore forward didn't wait long before tacking on number 14. She finished a strong run through the middle of the McNeese defense with a low shot past Money to give SFA a 2-0 advantage in the 38th minute.
SFA's next goal came after halftime, when freshman forward Kesia Broome took a feed out of the backfield and outran the Cowgirl defense to get a one-on-one with Money. Broome won the showdown for her third goal of the season and SFA's third and final of the contest.
"I think, mentally, we came in with something to prove," Frias said of his team's rematch with the Cowgirls, who defeated SFA, 1-0, in their regular-season meeting. "We were better prepared for this game from tactical standpoint, having seen how they play and knowing what they were going to try to do. Our kids did a great job of following the game plan today."
For the game, SFA outshot the Cowgirls, 20-10, with 14 shots on goal to six. The Ladyjacks opened the game with a flurry, firing off 11 shots while holding McNeese State to two.
SFA goalkeeper Crystin Pactor finished with six saves to post her seventh shutout of the season.
With the win, SFA improves to 13-4-2 on the season, the third-best win total in school history. The Ladyjacks will open their second NCAA Championship appearance in program history this weekend with a first-round game against an opponent yet to be determined. The NCAA Tournament selection show is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. central and will be shown on ESPN News.
Friday, SFA recorded a 1-0 win over Texas-San Antonio to earn a berth in the championship game. Sophomore Kelli Wilson scored the game-winner.
"We really tried to over-prepare this year, especially in the latter part of the season and for the tournament," Frias said. "We entered the tournament like we were starting a whole new season. We came in mentally as the underdogs. We felt that we had to do it that way to chase down that trophy."
Seven Ladyjacks were named to the all-tournament team, led by Palmacci, who was the Tournament MVP. Pactor, Fricks, Jenna Turner, Kelli Wilson, Jessica Cotton and Amanda Lackey joined Palmacci on the all-tournament team.
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