In a match that concluded regular season play, honored six seniors and clinched their spot in the Sun Belt ConferenceTournament, Bobcat soccer proved they were up for the occasion with a 3-0 home victory over Georgia Southern on Sunday.
The midday match put the ‘Cats at 9-7-2 overall and gave them a winning conference record for the first time since their most recent two losses. The team is currently slotted as the fourth seed in the Sun Belt Championship Tournament and will kick off the tournament in that position depending on the outcome of current sixth seed Arkansas State’s Tuesday match against Little Rock.
Just ten minutes into play, senior forward Kaylee Davis showed her extra motivation on Senior Day with a shot into the right corner to net the Bobcats’ first goal of the match. The goal was soon followed by senior goalie Heather Martin’s first save of the game as she shouldered two shot attempts by Georgia Southern to keep the match at shutout status.
Junior Ally Kewish widened the lead ten minutes later, sending in a high-flyer from behind the box that sailed smoothly over the Eagle goalie’s head for the 2-0 lead.
In the second half, Davis proved she wasn’t finished yet and capitalized on a penalty kick for the final 3-0 game score.
Martin took off the gloves for the final time at home and passed them on to senior goalie Kathryn Budde, who subbed in the 70th minute for her first career Sun Belt action. Budde played for 20 minutes against Sun Belt foes and kept the shutout alive with a save, while Martin logged in three saves in the game.
The game concluded with flowers, speeches and celebration for the team’s six seniors, each of whom have been key players throughout their time as Bobcats. The seniors include Davis, who leads the team in goals this season, Martin, who kicked off the season as the Sun Belt’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and Budde, who secured the shutout in their final regular season matchup. Other seniors include midfielder Jordan Kondikoff, the team’s “quarterback” and on-field coach who holds down the center line, forward Kalen Sanderford, who weathered through an injury in the 2017 season and was rewarded the Texas State Perseverance Award, and defender Genesis Turman, who leads the back line and received her first Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week award this season.
Conner said that this group of seniors are special on and off the field, and they will be sorely missed as they move on to the rest of their lives.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to such a great class,” Conner said. “They’re not just great players, they’re great people. I don’t ever have to motivate them. They’re passionate, driven people and you’re going to see them be successful even after their careers here.”
Kondikoff said that playing on their home field for the last time was a difficult moment.
“It’s tough,” Kondikoff said. “It kind of makes you sick to your stomach. These four years have completely flown by but it’s honestly an honor to play for this team. We’re a really tight knit group and I’m just really grateful that I got the opportunity to do this today for us.”
The senior bond is especially tight for Davis, who has been playing with Turman and Sanderford since their time at Allen High School.
“They’re two of my best friends,” Davis said. “Our families have been traveling together for soccer games for years now so that’s awesome.”
The victory came after a 1-0 overtime loss at home to Troy on Friday. Conner said that the team still played well in the game and is not disappointed in the loss.
“What you saw today and what you saw at Troy, that’s us,” Conner said. “(We’re) passing and moving, making our triangles, trying to get in behind, stepping up, denying others the space they want, and that’s what we’re here to do. That’s our style, and that’s Bobcat soccer.”
This weekend was the best the team has played all season, a feat that puts them closer to their goal of NCAA tournament qualification at the Sun Belt Conference Championship, Kondikoff said.
“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.”
Next up for the ‘Cats is a week of preparation before the Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament on Wednesday, Nov. 6 in Foley, Ala.