Despite losing its final two conference road games over the weekend, the TWU soccer team received some positive news upon returning home: A berth in the Lone Star Conference tournament awaits the Pioneers.
TWU closes out the regular season at home Saturday against Texas A&M-Commerce, and the Pioneers’ fourth trip to the tournament does not hinge on the game’s outcome.
Currently tied for fifth place, the Pioneers (6-9-2, 5-7-1 Lone Star) weren’t the only ones in the conference taking a tumble last weekend. The two teams below them in the standings, Eastern New Mexico and A&M-Commerce, also suffered two losses and were eliminated from contention for tournament berths.
The LSC’s top six regular-season teams qualify for the tourney.
It appears that TWU’s hard-fought, double-overtime scoreless tie against Midwestern State on Sept. 30 helped keep the Pioneers from falling to a non-qualifying position in the standings.
“That tie really kept us in it,” TWU head coach Fleur Benatar said. “And it’s good that we did some good work up front in the first half of the season.”
The Pioneers now can focus on turning around a dreadful October — they’ve lost six of seven games — and attempt to gain some momentum heading into the three-day conference tournament, which is set for Nov. 1-4 at the home of the regular-season champion.
“We’re going to prepare hard this week for what we’ve got coming up,” Benatar said. “A win Saturday would be great for us. Hopefully we can do what we need to do to win.”
The Pioneers enjoyed a successful September, when they went 5-3-2, only to struggle this month. TWU’s offense has evaporated in recent weeks as the Pioneers have suffered four shutout defeats.
“I can’t really put my finger on it,” Benatar said. “A couple of games we just missed on some opportunities, and in a couple of other games we just didn’t play well. But I think [the Pioneers’ ability to score] is still there.”
TWU plays its final home game at 7:30 pm. Saturday. The Lions (5-11, 4-9) beat TWU 3-2 in overtime Sept. 18.
Seniors to be recognized
Eight seniors appearing at home for the final time in their Pioneer uniforms will be recognized prior to Saturday’s game.
This season’s senior class includes Brittany Martin, Katy Black, Jillian Fuerman, Brittany Wispell, Leah Kuhl, Ashley Van Bakel, Grace Williams and Beatrice Soto.
Martin among LSC’s best
Martin, the Pioneers’ top scorer, is among the top five in four key offensive statistical categories in the conference.
Martin leads the Pioneers with 23 points — 10 goals and three assists. In the LSC, the forward from Rice, Texas, ranks second in goals and points and third in shots and shots on goal.
Tough stretch concludes
Mere minutes after sweeping Eastern New Mexico on Saturday, Pioneers coach Shelly Barberee started celebrating — not only the win, but the fact that the most challenging portion of TWU’s schedule was finally over.
After playing 14 of their last 18 matches on the road, the Pioneers now will play their final seven regular-season contests in the friendly confines of Kitty Magee Arena.
“The first half of conference [play] was brutal,” Barberee said. “But we came out of it with the possibility still there of being able to win the conference. I think we’ll have to win out, but all seven of these next games are at home, so that at least gives us the opportunity.
“No doubt, I’m really glad to be home for the rest of the season,” she said. “I think it’ll give the kids some momentum for the tournament.”
By blowing past Eastern New Mexico in three sets, the Pioneers (16-6, 10-4) once again were dominant on the road. It was sweep No. 13 on the season for the Pioneers, with seven of those coming on the road.
“I tell them all the time, the quicker we get it done, the quicker we get to go home,” Barberee said. “It’s not easy to sweep someone. In volleyball there are such momentum swings that make it hard to do. I didn’t know how many we had, but that’s pretty impressive.”
The Pioneers will host Midwestern State at 7 p.m. Friday and Cameron at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Fans can help food pantry
All spectators who take a canned or nonperishable food item to Friday night’s match against Midwestern State will be entered in a drawing to help the TWU Food Pantry.
Two Target gift cards will be awarded in the drawing. Winners will be selected between the second and third sets of the match.
“The TWU Food Pantry is an important charitable endeavor on our campus,” said Chalese Connors, TWU athletic director. “Hopefully our volleyball supporters will participate in this food drive and help us make a sizable contribution to this worthwhile cause.”
Adult tickets for TWU volleyball matches cost $5. Children ages 6-17 and seniors age 55 and up are admitted for $3.