By Joseph Lynch, Special to The Circuit.
The scoreboard at Benedictine College during women’s soccer games has very often been favoring the home team this fall. In fact, the Lady Raven’s only two losses of the season have occurred at their opponent’s home turf.
“We go into every game looking to win,” said head coach Lincoln Roblee. “But if we don’t take our opponents seriously, we will lose.”
These dual elements of confidence and preparation are defining features of the Lady Ravens and unmistakably a part of their recent success.
The post-season has been familiar territory for the Lady Ravens for several years, and it was no less a goal for the 2017 season than in the past. Other teams recognized that the Ravens could be a force to be reckoned with and from the first game, they were the team to beat.
“We had kind of a target on our head and a tough schedule,” Roblee said.
But the Lady Ravens responded early in the season with two big wins on the road in two days over undefeated opponents, Hastings College and University of Jamestown.
The Ravens also won a hard-fought match at home against Missouri Valley College on Sept. 20. With two goals in the first half, they led 2-1 through most of the game until sophomore Emily Ambuul scored in the 90th minute.
“It was great to come together as a team for that victory and still play with integrity even when the other team was starting to play a little dirty,” said junior Abbie Hair. “The last goal by Emily Ambuul was pretty epic because she scored in the final moments of the game”.
The early success has been noticed by NAIA ranking systems. The latest NAIA Modified RPI ranking, a system used to select teams and seed them for the national championship, placed the Lady Ravens as sixth in the country. The Coaches’ Top 25 poll, which is updated more regularly, has most recently placed Benedictine in the 16th spot, a few spots lower than the last poll which had them at 14th. The only other ranked team in the Heart of America Conference is Central Methodist University, ranked 10th.
The Lady Ravens took on Central Methodist in Fayette, MO, on Sept.16, losing 1-3. Benedictine remained scoreless through much of the game until senior Rosie McShane was able to score a goal near the end, but it was too little too late.
Yet positivity permeates the Lady Ravens even during the more difficult moments of the season.
“The negative moments have motivated us the next day in practice,” said junior Tori Sanders. “Losing the big games are the reason we’ve been able to win big games.”
Sanders suffered an ACL injury this fall, and though it is her first season-ending injury, she remains optimistic.
“It’s an opportunity to change my perspective and appreciate every position on and off the field,” Sanders said.
Seniors make up five of these positions and are a big factor in the strong performances that the Lady Ravens believe they have shown in the early part of the season.
“They are tough on the field and make people laugh off the field,” Roblee said.
Though with the help of these seniors, the Ravens have overcome some big challenges early on, there is a general feeling that improvement can be made.
“For the rest of the season, we are trying to push ourselves harder at practice,” Hair said. “We have had so many shots on goal recently, but we are really trying to work on finishing our chances.”
With the fluctuating rankings, the ups and downs of the season and the question of how their opponents are doing, it could be easy to lose focus as fall rolls by, but the Lady Ravens are constantly keeping their sights on the next game.
“We’re watching other teams, but at the end of the day the only thing we can control is our own games,” Sanders said.
After a challenging first half of the season, the Lady Ravens have confidence that their season is far from over.
“A lot of teams end in October,” Roblee said. “I feel like we’re just getting started.”