Battling, fighting and eventually getting her foot on the ball inside the box made senior forward Sarah Moon the hero in App State women’s soccer’s final conference game on Oct. 29. Lifting her team past Coastal Carolina left the crowd at Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex wanting more, and luckily for them, the team’s three points earned them the final spot in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
Struggling to pick up points in a strong conference slate, the Mountaineers only had four points in the conference standings through their first seven games. While Moon’s goal placed them in the conference tournament once again, the Apps had work to do to even have a chance at grabbing the No. 8 spot.
Having traveled to Texas State only 12 days before, the Mountaineers again made their way to the depths of the Sun Belt, making the long trip to Little Rock, Arkansas and then to Louisiana only two days later.
“The girls have been resilient, absolute road-warriors,” head coach Sarah Strickland said. “We’ve had some really long bus trips, we’ve flown a lot of places and we’ve played a lot of games where the team we’ve played is rested or didn’t play two days before. We’ve really battled through.”
Despite falling 3-1 to Little Rock, the Mountaineers bounced right back, capturing a 3-2 victory over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in overtime.
Delivering a ball into the box, junior forward/midfielder Emmily Cowie saw teammate and team leader in goals, junior forward Kat Greer, send the ball into the back of the net. The goal was scored with just a few minutes remaining in regulation and sent the game into overtime, where Cowie then sealed the deal with a goal off a corner kick.
Snapping a five-match winless streak, App State had new life in pursuit of a bid to the conference tournament.
“Emmily has been incredible, she’s been a grinder throughout this entire season,” Strickland said. “That’s just mentality and she’s come up huge in a lot of games as far as getting assists, creating opportunities and it hasn’t been just at the end of the season, it’s been throughout the entire season.”
Picking up important points on the road, the Mountaineers returned home to finish out their conference schedule. With just five days until their next matchup, the team returned home to prepare for Louisiana Monroe and Coastal Carolina.
Nearing the end of the season, Strickland decided to give her team more time to rest. Instead of starting practice at the usual 6 a.m. time slot, Strickland moved it back to 6:45 a.m. to allow her team to regain stamina tested often throughout their intense schedule.
As Oct. 20 rolled around, the team managed to secure one point against Louisiana Monroe, setting up a must-win match against Coastal Carolina two days later.
Scoring late in the first half, the goalscorer Moon and the Mountaineers had over 55 minutes left to maintain the needed scoreline. Defending effectively, the Apps held on for their first shutout victory of the season.
“It’s the final moments and those definitely define your team,” Moon said. “We’ve definitely stepped up and the finality of it all has made us come together.“
Notching two wins and one draw translated to seven points, which pushed the Mountaineers past Louisiana Monroe and Louisiana, both of whom were just one and three points off of making the tournament themselves.
Throughout its challenging season, App State has relied on all of its players to step up. Suffering various injuries, the team was forced to mix up the lineup.
Distributing a team-high of four assists, Cowie’s transition to an outside position has paid dividends. Starting the season at a new position, centerback, Cowie fit well in both spots for her team, seeing the hard work pay off late in the campaign.
“We came together as a team and tried to figure out what we needed to fix and what needed to improve on,” Cowie said. “We thought we were playing some really good soccer, but we just couldn’t finish games, so these past few games have been nice to see.”
Stepping up off the bench, the supersub Moon asked Strickland to have her come off the bench for the betterment of the team. Remaining patient, Moon’s goal snapped her scoring drought this season, rewarding her for her unselfish move.
Moving forward to App State’s first matchup of the postseason against South Alabama, the Mountaineers are determined to avenge the 2-1 road defeat that kicked off their conference schedule.
After taking the lead early in the game, App State saw the eventual regular season conference champions equalize right before the end of regulation and then go on to win the match in overtime.
“We had led majority of the game, but after that we talked about figuring out how to hold leads, how to maintain a lead and how to finish a game,” Strickland said. “We’ve shown against Coastal Carolina that was a very similar timing of when we scored the first goal and had to protect a lead for the remainder of the game.”
From the beginning to the end, the Mountaineers’ intensity has remained constant, but in their final three games, they matched that intensity with desired results.
As South Alabama and App State again step back onto the pitch, the Mountaineers know they are starting fresh, yet carrying confidence that has been brewing all season long.
“This game against South Alabama is going to be completely different than the game was at the beginning of the season,” Cowie said. “Going into the tournament, it’s a clean sheet for everybody. One thing that we need to focus on is keeping the high that we’re on and staying with it and knowing how it feels to continue to win.”
Story By: Tyler Hotz, In-Depth Editor
Photos By: Hunter Koch, Staff Photographer