DULUTH - On a snowy, windy and bitter cold afternoon in Duluth, Southwest Minnesota State's cinderella season came to an end at the hands of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe Minnesota-Duluth by a score of 2-0, in the NCAA Central Region Final.
The Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA quarterfinal round, while the Mustangs' season closed with an overall record of 16-4-2.
The Mustangs had the most successful season in program history in terms of wins, countless records and numerous individual accolades.
Photo submitted by SMSU Athletic Communication/Greg Devereaux Photography
Southwest Minnesota State’s Miranda Cadena makes contact with a Minnesota-Duluth player while battling for the ball during the NCAA?Tournament Central Region championship match Friday in Duluth.
A year ago, the Mustangs not only missed the NCAA Tournament, but they failed to qualify for the NSIC tournament as they finished 10th with a 7-9-1 record
Fast forward a year, the Mustangs clinched their first winning season since 1999 - only the second in program history, qualified for the NSIC Tournament for the first time since 2007, and earned an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in the program's 18-year history.
It was all impressive for a team that finished the 2010 season 1-11-4 overall.
"Proud, really proud of our girls and proud of everything that they have overcome [this year]," said head coach TJ Buchholz. "This team was picked to finish 10th in the conference in the preseason and we really had a lot of doubters. To come this far is pretty amazing and we are all very proud of them."
The 16 wins that SMSU gathered over three months of play this season were more than the last four years combined.
"I feel like this whole season was unexpected," added junior midfielder Autumn Hayes. "I think we came into the season trying to make a statement and we made more of a statement than we were expecting."
SMSU was playing into a stiff 15-mile per hour, snowy wind that hampered the offense in the first half as SMSU was shutout in the shots department.
UMD struck first after a scoreless first half in the 67th minute when Maureen Stormont converted on a penalty kick set up by a SMSU handball. Brienna Dehkes guessed right but the ball trickled past her outstretched arms and into the back of the net.
Later, the NSIC's leading scoring struck again, this time in the 78th minute on a perfect angled shot from the far corner. The goal gave UMD a 2-0 lead that would prove to be the final score. The game was only the second time this season that Dehkes and the defensive unit gave up more than one goal in a game. The other was the 4-3 comeback win versus Bemidji State on Oct. 5.
The single-season records broken this season were: assists (Kendahl Fisher, 12), assists per game (Fisher, 0.55), game-winning goals (Miranda Cadena, 7), goals against average (Brienna Dehkes, 0.69), wins (Dehkes, 15), and shutouts (Dehkes, 9).
"As a team we always stress - not to demand respect, we earn it and I think gradually throughout the season and postseason that our team did a great job doing that and we hope to come back next year and do the same thing," stated sophomore defender Megan Kilroy.
It was the final game for SMSU's three seniors - Danica Caudillo, Vanesa Corona and Kayla Williams.
"I am so proud of our group of seniors. They have helped move this program along in so many ways," said Buchholz. "10 of our starters will be back and we will definitely use this as a building point for next year."