The LU soccer team react to the announcement that they will play Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament, Friday.

The LU soccer team react to the announcement that they will play Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament, Friday.

 Soccer wins SLC tourney; will face Texas A&M in NCAA, Friday

In their first appearance in the Southland Conference Tournament, the Lady Cardinals soccer team won a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in franchise history. LU beat Corpus Christi (1-0), Central Arkansas (2-1) and SFA (2-0) in three consecutive games to be the champions for the very first time.

In a watch party, Monday, the team sat eagerly waiting to find out who they would face in their first game in the NCAA. Teams like Oklahoma State, California, and some of the top teams in the nation popped up one after the other. LU sat with wide eyes, gasping at some of the matchups as they waited to see their team roll across the screen. Cheers, sighs of relief and others of astonishment finally arose as Texas A&M slid across the monitor next to Lamar. LU (18-3-1) will face Texas A&M (17-2-1), Friday at 7:30 p.m. in College Station.

“Texas A&M is obviously one of the best teams in the country,” head coach Steve Holeman said. “They won the SCC tournament. I’ve been there before. It’s a great and exciting opportunity to play in one of the best college soccer environments in the entire country. The girls will get a really unique experience there.”

Holeman said the SLC tournament went phenomenal and has prepared them for Friday’s game.

“We took it one game at time,” he said. “Just because we entered as the No. 1 seed, we knew that that didn’t necessarily mean we would win the tournament. From the get-go we were playing Corpus Christi, who we beat previously, but we knew we were still going to get their best shot. That’s their home, their field, on their turf and so we were really good in the first round and we just advanced from that point.

“We got to face Central Arkansas, for the semi-finals, a team that beat us 4-1 earlier in the season. We avenged that loss and they were a very good opponent. Then we met SFA in the final, a veteran team in the Southland Conference final. They have been to four of the last finals and this was our first time to enter that tournament. From being a team that has never even been to the tournament and walk out as champions, was amazing.”

The team has many key players that have contributed to a successful season, Holeman said.

“You can start with Kelso Peskin up top, one of the nation’s leaders in assists,” he said. “She’s dangerous and she gives incredible effort every time she steps on the field. Then you have Lucy Ashworth and Madison Ledet on her right and left, have just been extremely dangerous on the flanks. M.J. Eckart, in the midfield, just kind of runs the show for us. She’s phenomenal in the air. In the back, Amelia Fullmer has been outstanding. In the goal, Lauren Lovejoy has just been absolutely incredible. She’s having an amazing year. She set a school record for shutouts and wins. We just continue to have a lot of firsts for this team.”

Goalkeeper Lauren Lovejoy said she was excited to see that they were going to play Texas A&M.

“We’ve played them a couple times in the past,” Lovejoy said. “One year we went, and they only won 2-0 against us, which is actually pretty good in my opinion. I’m ready to see what this team can do against a team like that. I think we are going to surprise a lot of people.”

Lovejoy said that preseason, as well as conference and post play, has prepared them for this moment.

“Once you get past that first game, you start steam rolling, and it’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “We just felt so confident in ourselves. We believed in one another and that’s the great thing about this team. We believed that we could go as far as we wanted to and not a lot of people did. We wanted to be first and we did it, for ourselves and for our community. It’s a really great feeling.”

Although she is excited, Lovejoy said it is also nerve racking to be in the goal.

“Goal keeping is a very tough position,” she said. “You have to be very mentally strong for it, but I’m extremely excited. I know my strengths. I know my abilities, and I know that my team trusts me as well. I’m looking forward to see what we can all do together out on the field.”

Midfielder M.J. Eckart said she is also excited for this weekend.

  “I’ve just been repeating, I feel, that this is just an amazing experience and it’s been great to be a part of this history making team,” she said. “We’re just ready to add another experience in our book and more memories and go out there and play our best.”

Eckart said after losing so much last year, she is more appreciative of where they are now.

“I think if we hadn’t been in the bottom, we would have still been excited, but it gives a whole other appreciation from how hard we worked to turn this program around and turn this worst to first season,” she said. “It definitely adds a level of gratefulness.”

Eckart said they would have been excited no matter who popped up on the screen.

“We’re just happy to be here, we’re ready to go play our best and show them who Lamar is.”

Story and photo by Cassandra Jenkins, UP sports editor

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