COLUMBIA — For 85 minutes, the Columbia College women's soccer team was close to scoring. After a rebound shot found the back of the net, the Cougars finally had something to show for it.
Junior midfielder Stephanie Hale broke a scoreless tie in 85th minute of the American Midwest Conference tournament semifinal against Hannibal-LaGrange, securing a 1-0 victory for the Cougars. The victory means the Cougars, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, advance to face No. 1 seed Park in the finals.
Freshman midfielder Kelli Westhues started the deciding play, making a run down the left edge of the field. She played a hard ball in toward the goal, a ball that the goalkeeper could not handle. As it slipped through her hands, a scramble for the loose ball formed and the ball eventually found its way to the foot of Hale, who sent the ball flying into the back corner of the net.
"I was relieved to score, but I knew we had to hold them until the end," Hale said. "It saved us from overtime, though, and I think the win built some confidence in us."
The game, played in cold, wet conditions at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium, was mostly an offensive struggle. Columbia College had a handful of opportunities in the second half, but they were either stopped by the Trojans goalkeeper and defense or negated by one of several offsides calls. It was the type of game Cougars coach John Klein was used to seeing from his team this season, which moved to 10-9, but the outcome was different this time around.
"I don't know if we've had a close battle that could go either way that we get a victory in this season," Klein said. "They dug in during crunch time and showed that they really wanted it. As one player found that extra gear, others started to find it, too."
The Cougars will continue their inaugural season in the American Midwest Conference championship game against Park, which defeated Columbia College 2-0 on Oct. 26. The championship game will be played at 1 p.m. Thursday in Parkville. The winner would secure entry to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament.
Klein said that getting to nationals is a challenge for every team, but he thinks his team can rise to the challenge.
"I don't think our players would be satisfied just to play for a conference championship," Klein said. "We're going to ask them to fight and keep pushing them to do more than the other team to win."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.