COLUMBIA — It was a successful hunt for the Cougars.
The Columbia College women's soccer team captured the American Midwest Conference regular season and tournament titles in just the program's second year of existence. Columbia's tournament victory sealed an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship.
The Missourian is counting down to the most memorable moment in Columbia sports, honoring the top athletes and programs of 2013. The No. 1 moment will be revealed on Dec. 31.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Cougars competed in the NAIA National Tournament, where they lost 2-1 in a penalty kick shootout (4-3 PKs) to Vanguard University. Columbia finished the season with a record of 16-3-1.
- Columbia led the nation in goals (106) and shutouts (13).
- The Cougars won 11 straight games to close out the regular season and conference tournament, scoring 73 goals while allowing just three.
- Columbia was undefeated at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium.
But in the opening round of the championship, Columbia lost 2-1 (4-3 PKs) to Vanguard University.
After posting a 10-10 record and falling in the AMC tournament championship game in 2012, the returning Cougars were hungrier than ever in 2013.
"I think the returning players realized how close they were," Columbia coach John Klein said. "We're a little bit deeper this year. There's really not a weakness on the field."
Columbia's increased depth was the result of some key additions to the roster, namely freshman defender Taylor Hagenhoff and junior midfielder MacKenzie Knepper.
Hagenhoff helped bolster a Cougar defense that allowed just nine goals all season. The freshman also contributed to Columbia's offense, scoring two goals and picking up 11 assists. Hagenhoff's performance earned her the AMC Freshman of the Year award.
Knepper, a transfer from Southwestern Illinois College, helped stabilize Columbia's midfield as well as its attack. The junior was the team's second-leading goal scorer with 16, and she also posted seven assists. Knepper was named AMC Newcomer of the Year.
But no player had as much of an impact as senior midfielder Stephanie Hale.
"She's the best player we have, men or women," Klein said.
Hale earned Klein's high praise by scoring 23 goals and posting 24 assists in 19 games. The senior led the nation in assists and points (70).
Hale was named AMC Player of the Year, to which she responded, "Kind of unexpected, but it goes to the team's hard work. It all goes to them."
And work hard her team did.
When Columbia's record fell to 5-2-1 after a 2-1 loss at Missouri Baptist University on Sept. 24, the Cougars knew they weren't playing their best soccer.
“That was our wake-up call,” Hale said. “We realized that it was gonna take a little bit more work. We had to learn more about how each other played, so it was more cohesive.”
Columbia responded with 11 straight wins that culminated in the AMC tournament championship. During that span, the Cougars racked up 73 goals while allowing only three.
For the season, goalkeepers Erica Ramirez and Flavia Rosado combined for 13 shutouts, the most among all NAIA schools.
With all but six of Columbia's players scheduled to return next year, including three of its top four goal scorers, the future looks bright for the Cougars.