The Columbia College women's soccer team's inaugural year came to a close Thursday in a 2-1 overtime loss to Park University in the American Midwest Conference tournament championship.
The Cougars, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, took the lead in the 23rd minute when junior midfielder Stephanie Hale put a free kick over the top of the defensive wall and into the back of the net. It was the first time Park, the tournament's top seed, had trailed in a game since an Oct. 3 loss to Avila and the first goal they had allowed since Oct. 13 against Missouri Baptist.
The Cougars held the lead until the 54th minute when Park senior Dana Hemmingson, Park's leading scorer, scored her 22nd goal of the season and tied the game.
The game remained scoreless until the end of regulation, thanks in part to what head coach John Klein called the save of the year by Cougars junior goalkeeper Erica Ramirez in the 69th minute.
After playing through the first 10-minute overtime period with no score, Park got the game-winner just 30 seconds into the second period on a goal by freshman Mikayla Fisher.
A lot of the Columbia College players remained on the field as Park celebrated, Klein said, taking in the final moments of their season.
"Wow, 101 minutes of soccer and then it's over," he said. "The players were pretty dejected from the loss, but they kept their composure and were professional shaking hands."
The victory sends Park (12-6) to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament, while Columbia College (10-10) ends its season. Sophomore midfielder Amanda Caldwell said that despite falling short of a conference championship, the Cougars still had a strong first season as a program.
"I think everyone except our coaches and players was thinking we'd just get blown out of the water our first year," Caldwell said. "But we became so strong and skilled together, I'm thrilled we got this far."
After the game, four Cougars were recognized on AMC All-Conference teams. Junior defender Elise Castellanos received the most votes out of the defenders named to the All-Conference first team and was joined on the first team by Hale and freshman forward Kelly Ross. Freshman defender Mallory Page was also named All-Conference honorable mention.
The Cougars will lose no players to graduation going into next year and established a solid core as the season progressed. Klein said he thinks these players, along with any newcomers to the program, can use their first season at Columbia College to build for the future.
"These players are always going to remember how close we got this year, and we're going to use that going forward," Klein said.
Caldwell agreed and gave a warning to the Cougars' future competition.
"Everyone really wanted this conference championship, so we're going to be hungrier than ever next year," she said. "Everyone had better watch out."