The No. 4 seeded Augustana women’s soccer team (16-5-1, 12-2-1 NSIC) knocked out the Central Oklahoma Bronchos 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA Central Region Tournament on Friday afternoon in Mankato, Minnesota, but fell 1-0 in the second to the Minnesota State University Mankato Mavericks (18-3-1, 12-3-0 NSIC).
Strengthened by a determined defensive effort, the Vikings took a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute of the first game, after junior forward Kenzie Geiger sent a shot past Central Oklahoma’s goalkeeper Kaitlyn Asher.
“Our powerful offense is because we have a powerful defense,” head coach Brandon Barkus said. “We are a strong, resilient team that works for each other and puts the team first.”
Putting the team first is what the Vikings’ junior goalkeeper Claudia Pueschner knows well. In a series of saves in the 47th minute of the second half, Pueschner lunged into the air and tipped the ball to prevent a second-chance score after she dove to the ground and stopped a Bronchos shot on goal.
“When she makes unbelievable saves like she did all season, it sparks a fire in everyone,” said Augustana forward/midfield sophomore Morgan Keirstead, who appeared in all 21 games last season.
Tied 1-1 after a 71st-minute goal from the Bronchos’ Haley Post, the Vikings continued to rely on their defensive stronghold.
The defensive effort brought by the Vikings yielded 10 saves from Pueschner, as the Bronchos 11 shots on goal more than tripled the Vikings 3.
“Her confidence, vision of the field, athleticism, and heart for the game is inspiring,” Keirstead said. Pueschner had a huge impact on Friday’s game, she added.
In the 84th minute, junior forward Alexis Legg outpaced Central Oklahoma’s Asher in a foot race near the net and sent the ball into the back of the net for the offensive opportunity that Augustana needed to put itself on top, 2-1.
“No postseason game is ever easy, and this game was absolutely no exception,” Keirstead said. “The determination to persevere through the full 90 minutes of the game paid off.”
As the Vikings headed into Sunday’s second-round tournament game against Minnesota State University Mankato, they faced a threat that had already brought two losses to their season.
With their heads held high, the Vikings continued to seek emphasis in their midfield game.
“When we play through the midfield, we are better,” Keirstead said. “Our style of soccer is to get the ball on the ground, connect passes, combine and then explode on the attack.”
In an offensive team effort, senior forward Jensen Froehlich led the Vikings with three shots in the game, followed by two shots from junior Shannon McKnight and two shots each from freshmen Sylvia Fehr and Josie Arduser.
Despite Augustana’s 15 shots toward the net, the lone goal of the match was delivered by Maverick forward Jenny Vetter in the 58th minute—her 20th goal of the season.
In a relentless effort by Augustana, the Vikings saw 28 shots and 16 shots on goal by the Mavericks, and an exhausting 15 saves at the net from Pueschner.
With just five minutes remaining in the match, the Vikings appeared to tie the game from a corner kick deflection in front of the net, but the goal was retracted after a called foul in the box.
“There are so many ups and downs in the game of soccer, but we pick each other back up and always continue to fight,” Keirstead said.
Pueschner finished the season strong with a career-high 15 saves against the No. 1 seeded Mavericks. Next season, the Vikings can look forward to the incredible talent she brings to the team.
The 1-0 loss to the top-seeded Minnesota State University Mankato concluded the careers of Vikings seniors Jensen Froehlich, Peyton Stenzel, Grace Bender, Morgan Moe, Grace Behm, Katie Ortgies, Claire Dahm and Erin Schneiderhan.
“What I see as success is the four unimaginable years that our seniors gave us and that we were able to walk away knowing we gave everything we had,” Keirstead said.
Barkus also said that the seniors worked hard to bring the team together.
“They have been fantastic leaders both on and off of the field,” Barkus said.
Looking ahead to next season, Barkus says that he expects to see more high achieving student-athletes who work hard both on the soccer field and in the classroom.
“I think we will continue to be a strong team that will compete for both a regular season and postseason championship,” Barkus said. “For me, it’s about finding the right student-athletes that will commit to putting in the work and persevering through the tough times and the good.”