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Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)
The Hardin-Simmons women's soccer team was selected as a host site for the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament, in an announcement made Monday afternoon.
The No. 7 Cowgirls (16-1-1) will be joined by Northwest Conference champion Puget Sound, Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference champion No. 16 Trinity and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion Occidental.
"The dream, as the host, is that they'd send you a weaker team," HSU coach Marcus Wood said. "But knowing how the brackets have played out and having experience with it, we know what they have to do to make it work. It is a tough draw, it's four conference champions."
In the opening round, HSU will face Puget Sound (13-5-2) in the first game Saturday, at 1 p.m. There is some history between the two programs as they have played seven times, four times in the NCAA tournament with each team winning twice. The most recent meeting was in the 2013 second round, a 1-0 UPS win.
"We have a long history with Puget Sound," Wood said. "I think if I read it correctly, they've won their conference championship 15 of the last 17 years. So, a great soccer program ... it's a school like Hardin-Simmons that, year-in and year-out, attracts really quality student athletes."
The Loggers earned the NWC bid through a tiebreaker after sharing the title with Pacific Lutheran.
Trinity (16-1-1) and Occidental (10-2-5) will square off in the second first-round contest at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Tigers won their 10th straight SCAC championship with a 1-0 win against Southwestern. Meanwhile, Occidental beat Pomona-Pitzer in the SCIAC championship 6-5 on penalties after no goals were scored in regulation or the two overtime periods.
But that matchup is not on the Cowgirls' radar yet.
"We're just going to focus on (our) game," Wood said. "If we're fortunate to have a game on Sunday, we'll start focusing on that one. But all of our focus this week will go into Puget Sound because they require it."
The two winners will meet Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
HSU wants to tweak, peak
Just as the Cowgirls improved from the start of the season through the ASC championship, there is still room for growth as the playoffs begin.
"I think sometimes just the idea, seniors know if they lose there's no hope of a last game," Wood said. "In the NCAA tournament, every senior knows they're playing to play another day. That adds a different element. With this great senior class, I do expect us to hit another gear. They've had such special careers and we want to extend those careers as long as we can."
The Cowgirls are trying for their third-straight trip to the Sweet 16 and reached the Final Four last year, so they're used to playoff runs. And because they know the work it takes, there is no looking past any opponent or any round.
"I would believe that our kids have been through this enough to know you can't look past any team that's in the NCAA tournament," Wood said. "The teams that are here are the best teams in the United States and we open up with one of the top teams in the country. They'll be focused."
One benefit the Cowgirls have is playing the first two rounds at the HSU Soccer Complex. That's something Hardin-Simmons wanted to do from the beginning of the season, and a 17-game unbeaten streak helped earn.
"One of the goals of a season is earning the right to host NCAA tournament games," Wood said. "This team earned the right to be the west regional No. 1 and the right to host. It's very special that we get to do it here this next weekend."
Seven Cowgirls named All-ASC
Kenne Kessler and Josey Meyer picked up American Southwest Conference women's soccer awards while five others were named all-conference Monday. Kessler, a senior from Highland Village, was named the ASC Offensive Player of the Year with 13 goals and seven assists in 17 games. She was also a first-team forward for her fourth career All-ASC selection.
Meyer, a senior from Waco, was named the ASC Sportsmanship Athlete of the Year as well as a first-team midfielder, her second All-ASC nod.
Seniors Sarah Krisa and Caitlin Christiansen were named to the first team, as a defender and goalkeeper, respectively. It was Krisa's fourth and Christiansen's third All-ASC honor.
Junior Kendell Groom was also a first-team defender, her second all-ASC selection, and freshman Randie Dennison was named a first-team forward. Freshman Madelyn Dowell was a third-team midfielder.
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