The UW-La Crosse women’s soccer team has used not being selected for last season’s NCAA Division III national championship tournament as motivation since the moment it learned its 2016 season was over.
On Monday, the Eagles earned some redemption.
After winning the conference championship tournament with a double-overtime, shootout victory over Whitewater on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex, the team didn’t leave its entry to the national tournament up to chance. UW-L’s dominance this season was rewarded even further as it will host the first two rounds of the 64-team national tournament this weekend, starting with Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup against The College of St. Scholastica in the first round.
“It was a pretty good feeling going to bed Saturday night knowing your name was going to get called on Monday,” UW-L coach Jason Murphy said minutes after the Eagles learned their national tourney opponent. “Last year was tough for the players and the program, feeling like we could’ve been in there, should’ve been there. They really used it this year for every time we play.”
The Eagles marched through its regular season opponents and posted a 17-1-3 overall record and won the third regular-season WIAC championship in program history with a 7-0 record in conference play. Their WIAC tournament win was the second in school history.
Wartburg (Iowa) and St. Thomas (Minn.) will play the other first-round game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, with the winner playing the La Crosse-St. Scholastica winner at 1 p.m. Sunday.
While he and the visiting teams’ coaches will have to coordinate practice times later this week, Murphy said that playing at home is a big advantage for the Eagles.
“They get to sleep in their own beds, they get to play on our field. Their routine’s going to be the same,” he said. “We’re excited to be home.”
UW-L — which hasn’t lost since Sept. 23 and had a 12-match win streak going before tying Whitewater — hasn’t played St. Scholastica (13-6-3) this year, but beat the Saints 1-0 early last year. This season, the Eagles defeated Wartburg 2-0 on Sept. 20 and tied St. Thomas 2-2 on Sept. 3.
The quick turnaround between the first- and second-round games is something Murphy has had in mind throughout the season. He scheduled a pair of back-to-backs in the regular season to prepare his team for that challenge, and it responded with wins in all four of those matchups. Murphy said he and his staff will focus especially on nutrition and recovery throughout the week so the team is ready to potentially play two games.
“I’m pretty excited that we’ve got a little experience with it,” Murphy said. “We’ll do things this week, and before Saturday’s game to make sure we’re ready to play Sunday if we do.”