The American Midwest Conference women’s soccer final will be about more than just a title this time around.
In the NAIA, a conference must field 12 teams for a regular-season title win to grant an automatic National Championship bid. After Park College and Freed-Hardeman moved to the Heart of America and Mid-South conferences, respectively, the AMC now has 10 teams, meaning Columbia College women’s soccer — despite being the No. 13 team in the nation and regular-season conference champions — still has not received an invitation to the tournament.
Though an at-large invitation is still a possibility for the Cougars, their only guaranteed route to the tournament is with a postseason victory. For their final opponent, an unranked Missouri Baptist, only a win will keep the Cougars' season alive.
The two teams faced each other in the previous hosting of the title game, which was held Nov. 14, 2019. And Columbia College and Missouri Baptist will repeat the matchup at 6 p.m. Thursday at R. Marvin Owens Field for the AMC title.
“To earn the automatic bid, you need to win that match, and I feel like we’ve built a pretty good resumé,” Columbia coach John Klein said. “I don’t think we’re assured of that national tournament bid, so we’ve gotta come out Thursday and do what we’ve done the last few games.”
Columbia enters the final with a 14-2 record, has gone unbeaten in its nine games against conference opponents and has not lost a game to unranked opposition this season. It has scored 13 goals and conceded one in its two postseason games leading up to the final.
Missouri Baptist, meanwhile, brings in a 9-5 season record, has suffered two defeats in conference play and has been defeated against all three of the ranked teams it has faced this season. Both of the Spartans’ postseason games — Central Baptist and William Woods — ended in narrow one-goal victories.
Though Columbia enters with the more impressive form, the regular-season game between the two teams was an incredibly close affair.
The Cougars ran out 2-1 winners but came from behind to get the win after conceding to Spartan Mara George within four minutes of the fixture.
Columbia outshot Missouri Baptist by 17 shots, and other than the goal it conceded, goalkeeper Kate Marshall was never called to action, while her opposite number made 10 saves in the contest.
The Cougars would find the net twice to overturn the deficit, and they did so via goals from two of their most consistently impressive players: Jewel Morelan and Delfina Zolesio Fernandez Blanco.
Klein believes those two players can carry his team to the title and a national championship appearance.
“I think they’ll be involved in our goals,” Klein said. “Delfina has been impressing me more and more. She’s getting really confident taking on those backs. She does it so many different ways. She cuts to the middle, she can beat the girl down the line, gets in a good cross."
“When Jewel’s getting down there (the right wing) she’s getting into that back post and threatening there. I do think that those girls will somehow be involved in our goals.”
Morelan is Columbia’s and the AMC’s top scorer on the season with 13 goals in 16 appearances. Delfina Zolesio has seven goals and seven assists in her freshman campaign. The two have been involved in six of Columbia’s 13 postseason goals.
But the Cougars will be up against a resilient Spartans side that was efficient in their previous matchup and prevailed in their semifinal against William Woods, despite being outshot 27-8.
With a team that’s high on confidence, Klein doesn’t anticipate changing his team’s style to fit Missouri Baptist, as Columbia goes in search of its seventh tournament championship.
“I really don’t think that we’ll wanna change what we do,” Klein said. “Maybe just identify where their most dangerous players are, see if they have a weak link. I don’t think we’re going to change how we play.”