The crossroad was familiar.
Two seasons in a row, the UAB women’s soccer team lost by four goals to a strong Arizona State team. The response to those two losses, however, was decidedly different.
“The Arizona trip was a big rollercoaster for us,” said UAB head coach Erica Demers. “I think that was a game that really hurt them, in the sense that game was very much like the year previous. They didn’t want that to happen again. Unfortunately, it did. It was a four-goal margin, same as last year. I think that hurt them. They just emotionally changed it. They decided that’s not us.”
Three days later, they took the field against a very good Arizona team, and before the game was 35 minutes old, the Blazers had a 2-0 lead. Now, the Wildcats were able to forge a tie, but the tone for the season was set.
Little did they know at the time, but that September day in Tucson, Arizona, was the start of a record-setting run. The next game, the Blazers beat a Samford team that was ranked in the top 25 the week before. After they kept playing and they kept avoiding a loss. In the 10 games following the Arizona State loss, the Blazers were 7-0-3.
The 10 successive games without a loss set a school record. They became a fixture in the South Region Top 10, peaking at No. 2, and battled for the top spot in Conference USA with Rice.
They did all this one game at a time.
“The players just have this self-belief,” Demers said. “To be honest, I don’t want to say it’s that simple, but we believed. They were consistent in training, we were consistent how we kind of rolled through it. We had the same kind of sessions, in terms of this is what we need to work on this week. It was the timing of everything, when we did our film sessions, when we did extra sessions. We just kept really consistent, and this is a group that likes organization. It just kind of flowed.”
It certainly wasn’t easy. Demers said one of the most important games of the streak came at PNC Field on Oct. 9 when visiting UTSA scored in the early minutes.
“We hadn’t been down for a while in a game,” said Demers, who is 50-37-14 in six seasons at UAB. “They scored early. I think they scored in the first three minutes. That was hard. It was three minutes into the game, we’ve got to be able to come back.”
UAB did come back, tying the game on a goal by Hannah Clark in the 74th minute. Demers said her team was content with earning the tie.
“What we talked about to them about after the game was that’s great we did that, but, the next step is, we are striving to win that game as opposed to be complacent that we got the 1-1 back,” Demers said. “We need more than that. Come crunch time, you have to win, you have to win to go forward. That was a big turning point for us.”
The Blazers won two more games before the streak finally came to an end last Sunday when they lost a 2-1 decision at Louisiana Tech. It ended UAB’s hopes of this Saturday’s visit from Rice being a C-USA regular season championship game.
The loss hit hard.
“We don’t want them to feel like La Tech game decided the identity of our team, by any means,” Demers said. “We had a 10-game unbeaten streak, we made history this year, there are so many positives. We actually had the conversation with the players, that one game doesn’t define us. We are a good team, we’re a very good team. We’ve done a lot of great things this season, so far. They were down, they don’t like to lose. It was a tough game for them on Sunday. Bounce back and be ready.”
That begins with Saturday at 1 p.m. against C-USA regular season champion Rice and carries into the C-USA Tournament, which takes place from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6 in Charlotte.
UAB will move forward with the same approach it’s carried through the season, which is spread the scoring around, get outstanding goalkeeping and play together.
When the season began, Demers and her staff weren’t quite sure where the goals would come from. Last year’s leading scorer, Lexxe Lipsey, graduated and Laura Zemberoya was lost to a preseason knee injury.
The question answered itself
“Asha (Zuniga), our lead captain, she’s obviously got a few goals for us,” Demers said. “Then the rest of it has been spread out, Carlyn Presley, found the back of the net a few times, Stella Lawson has, Morgan (Halliwill) has. We’ve had to have a few players, when it’s crunch time, you need to find the back of the net. I think it’s good to have multiple players that can finish for you, as opposed to just one or two.”
Eve Boyer is one of the top goalkeepers in the conference but Anika Toth is not far behind.
“I really think we have two of the best goalkeepers in Conference USA,” Demers said. “We do battle it week to week, Eve’s just been the consistent one. She’s the organizer, she’s the vocal leader for us in our back line. They’re not as good if they don’t have each other, that’s the blessing.”
Which brings Demers back to the point of the team relying on each other.
“Our culture is everyone is a part of the team,” Demers said. “I think when you have that, you get multiple people contributing consistently. Our back line is not complete unless all of them are playing well together. Asha is not Asha, for example, if she doesn’t have (Sidney McGregor) and (Canby Biddle). Eve is not the same goalkeeper if she doesn’t have three in front of the goal protecting her. I think what we have now is a complete team.”
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