November 10, 2012
Ward powers Tech in NCAAs
It was a special night at the John Walker Soccer Complex. Not just because the Red Raiders defeated North Texas, 2-0, in the opening round of the NCAA Women's Soccer Championship.
Even as dust from the same strong south wind that affected the Texas Tech football team earlier in the day put a different tint on the stadium lights, a little storm system spit rain and some lightning flashed in the distance, the stadium glowed. It is growing up and reaching new heights just like the Red Raider soccer program itself.
A Red Raider program that will face No. 1 seed Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., next week in the round of 32.
The John Walker Soccer Complex went to another level Saturday. The stands were full and the overflow spanned from the team's sideline, across the northern backline and to the opposing sideline. If there had not been a new indoor training facility on the south side the crowd would have been there too.
The atmosphere seemed to cooperate as well. Little bells and cheers rang out further than usual, the thud of the ball could be heard 130 yards away and 'Raider Power' chants carried across the away.
It was the pristine environment for a tournament game at one of the nation's best facilities. Hosting its biggest game yet.
And for some, like senior striker Dawn Ward, the best home game ever was their last home game ever.
Ward scored both the Red Raiders' goals eight minutes apart early in the second half.
After battling the wind in the first half, where North Texas could essentially punt the ball to Tech keeper Victoria Esson, Ward and the Red Raiders got going early in the second half.
Ward worked her way to the penalty area and headed in a cross from fellow forward Janine Beckie for a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute. She paid the price as a North Texas defender took a vicious shot to Ward's head.
But just about eight minutes later Ward beat the Mean Green defense, took a long pass from midfielder Hannah Devine and put a soft shot into the back of the North Texas net for a 2-0 lead.
"Feels great," Ward said. "More so than the goals, I'm happy for my team. I'm glad we won and we're able to go onto the next round."
The midfielders, back line, Esson and the wind were able to keep the pressure on the Mean Green after Tech got that 2-0 lead. Esson only had to make one major save in the second half as North Texas long passes got picked up and rerouted by West Texas' biggest home field advantage and stolen by a Tech squad that has really improved in recent years.
"We felt very fortunate we were able to get a hold of our possession game and were able to push them back a little bit," Tech head coach Tom Stone said. "Watching them on video was pretty scary. Their front three are really good and their attacking mids were good. But I felt like we were able to establish our possession game early and set the tone. You could sense the frustration creeping in because they didn't have the ball as much as they normally have.
"Our girls did a great job of taking that away from them. North Texas has had an unbelievable season, won the Sun Belt, 16 wins. So we knew we were up against it."
Stone added Tech just had to weather the first 15 minutes of the match. It was the Red Raiders' first ever NCAA appearance in program history, and according to the coach it looked like it with a tense warm up and a quiet locker room before the game.
"I tried to make them laugh before kickoff" Stone said. "Didn't work. But once they got a hold of the ball and started moving it around they settled in and realized it was just like any other game."
The reward? Facing a very talented Florida State team with a 17-3 record on the Seminole's campus.
Florida State beat Mississippi Valley State, 6-0, in the opening round of the tournament.
"We know that they won 6-0 so they probably rested a lot of starters," junior midfielder Hayley Haagsma said. "So this week we're just going to watch film and get to know them. Understand their weaknesses and how to use them to our advantage."
That's it for games in Lubbock this season. For Ward and four other seniors, that's it in Lubbock forever.
But what a night it was.
"It was really a blessing," Ward said. "It was awesome. I had more family and friends out here for this game -- I can't even describe the feeling. It was awesome. It's great."
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