Taylor women’s soccer ended their conference run on Nov. 9, falling to No. 2 Marian in the Crossroads League Tournament Semifinals. Although the Trojans did not finish on their own terms, they received a bid into the 2022 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship during a selection show held on Nov. 14.
Taylor traveled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi on Nov. 17 for a first-round matchup with No. 11 Columbia hosted at William Carey University. They competed in bracketplay among a 40-team field for a chance to move on to the final in which the 10 surviving teams vie for the 2022 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Junior Hannah Brackenbury, a goalie for the Trojans, said the team was in a weird in-between state before being selected for Nationals, not yet having closure following conference play.
“Then we found out and there was just such a joy of ‘we get to play with our seniors for more games’ because we didn’t know if we had to say goodbye to them yet,” Brackenbury said. “We’re all just so excited … to get another shot to prove ourselves … because we’re talented and we want our scores to reflect that.”
Brackenbury posted a 75.3 save percentage entering the national tournament.
During the regular season, Taylor lost 6-1 to the Crossroads League-leading Marian but managed a much closer contest in the encore performance. Trailing 3-0 after a quick second-half score by the Marian Knights, the Trojans rallied back with goals coming from junior Chloe Sena and sophomore Sydney Thompson. Despite this effort, the point deficit proved too much to overcome.
The Saturday before facing Marian, Taylor defeated conference rival Indiana Wesleyan 2-1 on the road in the Crossroads League Tournament Quarterfinals. Unlike the lopsided 2-0 Wildcat victory during the regular season, Taylor played this entire game with the lead, taking a 2-0 advantage into the final 10 minutes of play. They gave up a late goal to IWU, but hung on to win the game 2-1.
“We just outplayed them (IWU) all over the field,” Scott Stan, head coach of Taylor women’s soccer said. “It’s pretty interesting to see we’re as good as a top-10 team, but the top-five (teams) are different.”
Sophomore Lauren Collins, who moved from outside forward to midfielder after her first season, tallied eight goals and three assists prior to Nationals, including one score in the conference quarterfinal. After only starting one game her freshman season, Collins emerged this season as a regular in the starting lineup.
“We’re not an individual team,” Collins said. “I know we’re going to have a big game because when we’re all communicating and talking, it just adds an atmosphere of positivity … and just adds fun.”
Reemphasizing the same spirit, Collins said they lost to Marian as a team, not because of any one player. Collins complimented Sena’s goal in the loss as one of the best she has ever seen and credited the near comeback to Thompson’s energy reinvigorating a tired Trojan wing.
At the beginning of the regular season, Taylor torched through the first 10 games, amounting to a 9-0-1 record. Taylor’s momentum was slowed by consecutive losses to Indiana Wesleyan and Spring Arbor, both NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 teams (No. 10 and No. 3 at the time).
As their 13-4-2 record stands through conference, the Trojan’s .737 winning percentage is the best since a program record in 2016, when they went 14-2-1 (.853). Stan, in his 15th year, has now amassed ten 10-win seasons and continues to increase his lead as the all-time winningest head coach in Taylor athletics (159).
From a conference standpoint, a 4-3-2 record does not jump off the page right away but speaks to the level of play in the Crossroads League. According to Stan, it has been the strongest conference in the NAIA the past four years. In 2019, six of the 10 teams, including Taylor, punched their ticket to Nationals.
Stan said he expects the Trojans to be very strong and competitive over the next four to five years, with youth on their side and only five seniors graduating. Eleven girls have already signed with Taylor for the 2023 season and four girls have committed for 2024.