For a 2-0 defeat, Columbia College women's soccer certainly wasn't overmatched against No. 7 Martin Methodist College Friday night in Columbia.
In fact, it could be argued the Cougars were even the better team. Head coach John Klein certainly thought so.
"We were the better soccer team tonight," Klein said. "Absolutely we were the best soccer team tonight. But the best soccer team doesn't always win the soccer game."
Columbia College was better statistically, which made Klein so adamant that the Cougars deserved a chance to knock off the top 10-ranked Redhawks.
Columbia outshot the Redhawks 17-16, had seven corner kicks to Martin Methodist's three and had multiple shots knock off of the goalpost. All that, and the Cougars earned a penalty kick in the 74th minute. But no shot from Columbia College finished in the back of the Redhawks' net.
It also didn't help that Martin Methodist sophomore goalkeeper Gabby Kennedy, who saved the Cougars' penalty kick in addition to point-blank and diving stops, was a menace between the goalposts.
But Klein's message remained clear: getting chances on goal is good, but converting them and scoring is better.
"We had the best chances throughout the night," Klein said. "But if we don't score goals, then we won't be the best soccer team in games. If we keep losing because we're not scoring goals, I'll quit saying it, but I feel very good about what the team did tonight."
Columbia and Martin Methodist were tied at eight shots in a scoreless first half, but it was the greater quality of their shots that set the Cougars apart. Most notably in the 32nd minute, a shot from senior Emma Laney's looked destined for the top right corner, but Kennedy dove and pawed away the shot in a spectacular save.
Then just a minute into the second half, reigning American Midwest Conference Player of the Year Molly Klein slipped on side and tried chipping Kennedy, in which the ball careened off of the crossbar and was quickly cleared by the Redhawk defense.
Martin Methodisttook the lead in the 68th minutes , and not without controversy. A Columbia defender attempted to pass the ball through the air while deep in her own half , which ended up deflecting off of the body of Redhawks' junior Adisa Nwawel.
Which part of Nwawel's body the ball hit during the deflection is where there is disagreement. Klein thought that the deflection was a handball and that play should've been stopped immediately, which would've negated the goal.
"It's unfortunate they score the first goal on a handball," Klein said. "That referee should've called that. They shouldn't get that first goal. Clear handball missed by the official not called and...that hurt."
But Columbia freshman goalkeeper Victoria Heus, who saw the play while in net, saw the deflection differently.
"I don't think so, to be honest," Heus said when asked if it Nwawel committed a handball. "She turned her body, and it was more her side than her hand. I don't know for sure, but from my point-of-view it was not a handball."
Heus was one of three freshmen to start for Columbia on Friday, it's a testament to Klein's trust in the youth of his program that he played them heavily against a highly-regarded opponent.
Heus made six saves, joining Brianna Heath and Jewel Morelan as those who made their debut starts for the Cougars . The German keeper would concede another goal — a penalty kick from Redhawk midfielder Laila Espamer in the 86th minute — but earned a pat on the back and kind words from Klein along with praise for her fellow freshmen.
"They're all just getting their first minutes, that's got to be nerve-wracking," Klein said of the freshmen. "It was a good opportunity to get players in...we had a lot of control of the ball, we had opportunities to get into both corners. They're going to get their chance...and we're going to start to find victories."
Columbia College resumes play on Wednesday against Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb. Kick-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.