Lamar Soccer wins SLC Championship, headed to NCAA tournament
Corpus Christi, TX —
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Lamar University Cardinals are Southland Conference champions.
The Cardinals put an exclamation point on their historic season with a 2-0 win over the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks in the championship game of the Southland Conference Tournament on Sunday afternoon. With the win, the Cardinals clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the 11-year history of the program.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” LU coach Steve Holeman said. “What a special group this is. The fact that none of these players had never been to the Southland Conference Tournament, and then come in as the top seed and win it all is tremendous. I’m just proud to be a part of it. This is a phenomenal team”
The Cardinals (18-3-1) hadn’t been to the Southland Conference Tournament since 2012, when they fell to Stephen F. Austin in the title game. This year’s LU squad is just one season removed from the 2016 campaign that saw the Cardinals go 2-14-3.
“They’ve come so far so quickly,” Holeman said. “This group is extremely coachable. They’re very appreciative of what they get, and they’re selfless.”
LU got on the board at the 23:01 mark of the first half when Juliana Ocampo scored on a header off a Lucy Ashworth corner kick. It was Ocampo’s fifth goal of the season, while Ashworth picked up her eighth assist.
“We’ve been dangerous on set pieces this season, and we converted another one today,” Holeman said. “It’s something we’ve worked on.”
LU made it 2-0 with 5:21 remaining in the first half when Juli Rocha scored on a penalty kick after Brittany Harris was fouled inside the penalty area. It was the sixth penalty-kick goal of the season for LU, but the first for Rocha. The Cardinals mixed things up a bit, as M.J. Eckart had scored the last four penalty-kick goals for LU
“Give credit to our associated head coach, Henry Zapata,” Holeman said. “We had been working on penalty kicks in case it came down to PKs in a shootout. We figured SFA might have had an idea what M.J. would do, so we went with Juli, and it paid off.”
After that, it was up to goalkeeper Lauren Lovejoy and the LU defense to keep the Ladyjacks (13-8) at bay the rest of the way. Lovejoy made five saves to register her 10th shutout of the season and 12th of her career.
“The second half was the longest 45 minutes of my life,” Lovejoy said. “But our defense was amazing. This is a special feeling.”
The Cardinals placed six players on the all-tournament team. Freshman Madison Ledet, who had goals in each of the first two games, was the tournament MVP. Joining Ledet as LU representatives on the all-tourney squad were Rocha, Lovejoy, Eckart, Ocampo and Kelso Peskin.
“I’m speechless right now,” said Ledet. “This is such a great feeling. I’m looking forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Also looking forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament is Eckart, a fifth-year senior.
“I get to continue my career for at least one more game,” Eckart said. “This is just such a special team. We have come so far.”
The Cardinals will learn who their first-round foe in the NCAA Tournament is at 3:30 p.m. Monday. Fans are encouraged to join the team at a Selection Show watch party at the Dauphin Athletic Complex. The NCAA Tournament starts Friday.
“This is a little different for me,” said Holeman, who has guided six teams to the NCAA Tournament, but never as an automatic qualifier. “It was always wondering if we were going to be in. Now we know we’re going to the tourney. It’s just a matter of finding out who we are playing.”
Admission to Monday’s watch party is free.