After one of the most challenging and unpredictable seasons in recent Texas State soccer history, the Bobcats have secured their playoff berth in the Sun Belt tournament for the 2019 season with a three-way tie for fourth place. After several tie breakers, the team will go into the tournament as the sixth seed to face third seed Arkansas State.
The Bobcats plan to outperform last year’s near NCAA tournament qualification where they lost to Little Rock in overtime penalty kicks in the final round of play. Their last matchup with Arkansas State this season saw a 1-0 Bobcat loss after the Red Wolves took the lead off a penalty kick in the first half. The series, however, favors the Bobcats, and they have won five of the past eight games against Arkansas State. The teams are relatively evenly matched, however, and every game but one has been decided by a single goal.
This win won’t come easily, but then again nothing has been this season. The ‘Cats kicked off the season with a 4-0 win streak coming off of a nation-pacing undefeated streak, but the tide quickly turned midway through the season when they hit their longest winless streak in history since joining the Sun Belt Conference. This streak finally ended during the team’s fourth conference game when they beat University of Louisiana Monroe in a tremendous 5-0 game. From that point on they won all but one game of the conference in hard fought games, racking up points and shutting teams off so they could reach the Sun Belt Championship Tournament.
This enormous comeback couldn’t have happened without the efforts of senior forward Kaylee Davis, senior midfielder Jordan Kondikoff, senior goalie Heather Martin, and head coach Kat Conner. Davis and Kondikoff were named to the All-Sun Belt First Team on Tuesday for their contributions, and both awards have been well earned.
Davis has had some part in every goal since the team’s infamous winless streak, with five goals and three assists to her name. Each goal was also a game decider, meaning Davis paces the conference with match-winning goals which put her as tied for fourth in Texas State history. Davis, a senior, has been vital to the team in her four years and was named to the First Team three years in a row. Davis is a prominent and well-known player who manages to slice up opposing defenses with apparent ease.
Kondikoff brings to the game a level of intensity and leadership that has been vital to the team throughout the season. Often seen as the coach on the field, according to Conner, Kondikoff said she plans to bring that intensity and direction that she brings to the pitch to the Sun Belt Tournament with hopes of breaking into the NCAA tournament for her final year.
“The end (goal) is to win the whole thing, to go to the big dance (NCAA tournament), but we just want to go and make a statement about who we are,” Kondikoff said. “We want teams to fear playing us and we want to go say we are the Bobcats, we might not have had the conference we wanted but we’re here to win.”
Martin, on the other hand, brings calm to the pitch that helps the team stay level headed, shutting out half of the games and only allowing more than a single goal in one match this season. The feat is even more impressive when considering that she’s saving on average four opposing shots a game. The conference knows that if there’s one person they’ll struggle to get a ball by, it’s Heather.
Lastly, the mind off the pitch that has led to the team’s success is Conner. Lineup changes were made several times throughout the season by Conner, but the most notable of these was freshman midfielder Bailey Peschel starting during the ULM game and continuing to get to start the rest of the season. This decision was presumably made my coach to bring that grittiness to the field that they were lacking during their winless streak.
Even at the depths of their winless and scoreless streak, Conner said her faith in her team to succeed was anything but wavering.
“The Bobcats never quit,” Conner said. “We’re never going to quit and we’re always going to come back tougher.”
The Bobcats will take on the Red Wolves in Foley, Alabama on Wednesday November 6th, at 10 am as the first game of the tournament. Fans can follow the game on ESPN+ or through the team’s Twitter, @TXStateSoccer.