Emory Eagles (8-5-4) at Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (16-1-1)
Belton, Texas (UMHB Soccer Field)
Saturday, November 11 at 5 p.m. CT
UMHB women’s soccer has been near unstoppable throughout the 2023 season, and faces perhaps its biggest test with its season on the line in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 5 p.m. against Emory. But one thing will be different this time around, as compared to the program’s previous two national tournament appearances: they will have home field advantage. That, in itself, is a valuable aspect in a must-win contest like this one.
“Making the NCAA Tournament is a big deal,” UMHB head coach Barry Elkins said. “64 teams are still playing. If they had sent us to California, it would’ve been a good experience. If they had sent us to Virginia, it would’ve been a good experience. But to get to play at home is great. Our administration does a really good job of putting on a tournament. And for it to be the first time [we host in the NCAA Tournament], it’s a special experience.”
This marks the second straight year that the Crusaders have reached the national tournament, which marks the first time UMHB has done so in program history. Though several players are in new and more spotlighted roles in 2023 than they were a year ago, Elkins says the transfer of learning that has been seen stems from last year’s senior class, whose leadership was impactful.
“This year’s team learned from the group ahead of them,” Elkins said. “They’ve taken what the group ahead of them has done and tried to build on it. So I think even going into next year, we’re going to try to build off this group. Even though we’re graduating players [after this season], we have younger players who are getting to learn from them and that’s something we’ve seen now, two years running.”
One of the big strengths for UMHB has been its defensive presence, which originates with the attackers and midfielders remaining aggressive up front, and the back line taking charge at the same time. The Crusaders rank seventh in the nation in goals-against-average, having allowed just 0.33 goals per match this season. Goalkeeper Reagan Williams, who has played a full 90 minutes in each of UMHB’s last six matches, is eighth nationally in individual goals-against-average (0.32).
“We knew coming in that our back line was strong,” Elkins said. “We lost a fifth-year All-American [in Kristen Burdick] but Malyn [Martinson] got to spend the year learning our system and what’s expected of her. She came in ready to play and really solidified that spot.
“Moving Kennedy [Harris] to the back line gave us more speed, which in turn, gave Allie [Angell] a chance to get used to the speed of play and get stronger. And Maren [Fields] has been the consistent one over the last three years. You know what you’re going to get out of her every game. She brings it every game.”
“So our back line, as well as our midfield three, they do all the work. We have a solid six players that teams are going to have to work through to even get to Reagan and Ainsley [Westlake], who’ve done a great job. It makes it tough on the other teams.”
The Eagles of Emory finished seventh in the University Athletic Association (UAA) standings, but fourth in the Region VI rankings following the regular season. It is an indication of how good the league is, with four of its schools ranked No. 1 in their respective regions across the country. Seven of the league’s eight teams qualified for the tournament.
Emory is a strong offensive team, averaging 2.53 goals per match. Kaitlyn Nimmer leads the way with nine goals, Emily Woodall has six, and Mia Han has five. A solid second half team, Emory has scored five more goals in the second half of games (24) this season as compared to the first half (19).
“You have four teams in the conference who are ranked No. 1 in their respective region,” Elkins said of the UAA. “What we expect out of Emory is a fast-paced team. Day-in and day-out, they play against quality opponents.
“Their speed of play is going to be phenomenal. We want to make sure that we walk in and match their speed of play because they’re used to seeing quality opponents. I think the back half of our schedule has helped us [prepare for this], because we played some really tough conference opponents at the end. UTD got our speed up for HSU, which got our speed up for McMurry.”
A win for UMHB would…
…give the program its first-ever NCAA Tournament win
…be UMHB’s 18th straight match in Belton that ends in either a win or a tie
…mark The Cru’s 17th victory of the season, tying the program record, set in 2022, for wins in a single season
In the NCAA Tournament, it is win or go home in a single elimination format. The winner of the 5 p.m. matchup between UMHB and Emory faces the winner of Hardin-Simmons and Trinity (TX) on Sunday for the right to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and the Round of 16.
Follow the action
WATCH: Cruathletics.com will have the broadcast with Kyle Shipp (play-by-play) and Mike Stawski (color commentary) on the call.
LIVE STATS: Live stats can be found on cruathletics.com.
TICKETS: Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors, $5 for students and free for children two and under. UMHB students will receive free admission with their student ID. Fields will open two hours prior to kickoff with tickets purchased at the gates.