Nearly a year to the day after winning a conference tournament in winter conditions, Columbia College women’s soccer had another postseason showdown with snow on the field.
But with how red-hot No. 25 CC has been over the last couple of months, it’s going to take more than low temperatures to cool off the Cougars.
Faced with a delayed start, below-freezing temperatures and an icy pitch, Columbia still moved on to Thursday’s American Midwest Conference tournament final with a 3-0 win over Park (Missouri) in Monday’s semifinal round.
CC had flashbacks to a Nov. 8, 2018, AMC tournament final against William Woods, a game played in blizzard conditions that the Cougars won in penalty kicks. But with the Cougars’ attack being No. 3 in the NAIA in goals scored, this year’s frozen faceoff didn’t take as long.
Senior Molly Klein, bothered by a foot injury for much of the past few weeks, looked lively and healthy in her performance as CC’s star woman. She wonderfully chipped Pirates keeper Felicitas Mueller in the 30th minute, then assisted Abigail Meyer off of a corner kick 13 minutes later to double the Cougars’ lead.
Klein added onto her goal tally by completing her brace in the 82nd minute, slotting in a Brianna Heath cross to put the nail in Park’s coffin. Part of Klein’s stellar play was based in the fact that she’s no stranger to being clutch in the cold: Klein knocked in the winning penalty in last year’s AMC conference title game.
“I kind of had deja vu there for a little bit from last year’s conference championship,” Klein said. “(Today) was a little different. We kind of kept getting pushed back and we’re like, ‘Oh, OK, what’s going to happen here?’ But no, we stayed strong. These girls were able to get into the game and make a difference.”
With a game-time temperature of 21 degrees and a 14 mph winds with a wind chill dropping toward zero, weather conditions were absolutely brutal.
R. Marvin Owens Field was covered in snow at the original 3 p.m. start time, so CC enlisted the help of other athletic teams and various personnel to clear the pitch, delaying the game to an official start time of 5:51.
Seeing the field at 11 a.m. and thinking there would be “no way” a game would be played hours later, Cougars coach John Klein commended the volunteers who worked to ensure the match would be played Monday.
“I’m just proud of the Columbia College community for coming together and making it happen,” Klein said. “We owe so many people so much. All of a sudden ... you saw (the game) was going to happen and the girls were ready to play. And I think they wanted to reward all of the hard work that went into today.”
As for the game itself, Park was no slouch, having one of the AMC’s top goalscorers in sophomore Lenvix Ochieng. The Kenyan had 19 goals in 15 games entering Monday, including a score against CC in their meeting on Oct. 5 — one of just three goals the Cougars conceded in conference play.
Ochieng didn’t get any such score this time. Columbia defenders Meyer and Kaitlyn Tambke limited the striker to two shots on goal in a defensive performance that John Klein praised.
“Katie and Abby were working so hard to identify where she was,” Klein said. “We just didn’t want her to slip in behind (the defense). She could have the ball, you know, 40 yards from the goal, but just don’t let her slip behind you. The girls took care of that.”
Thursday’s AMC final at R. Marvin Owens could still be below-freezing but will feature two scorching-hot teams doing battle in Missouri Baptist and Columbia.
CC hasn’t lost in 13 games, but the Spartans haven’t lost in 10. It’s been an incredible turnaround for MBU after starting the season 0-7, which could become more improbable as an upset win Thursday would qualify them for the NAIA National Tournament.
The Cougars did beat the Spartans 4-0 Oct. 2, but John Klein is no fool. He’s expecting a rejuvenated and motivated MBU team to roll into Columbia.
“I think they’ve figured it out,” Klein said. “We’re going to see more than we saw in St. Louis when we played them. (Coach) Deno (Merrick) gets those girls workin’, and I think we’re in for a great final.”