DII notebook: Minot State women's soccer powered by strong defense
Since giving up two goals in a loss in the third game of the season, Minot State (N.D.) women’s soccer has made it very difficult for opposing teams to score. The Beavers have allowed only four goals over the next 11 games.
The stingy defense coupled with the scoring ability of senior Ninfa Ramirez and senior Chloe Melton have propelled Minot State to an 11-1-1 overall record and 10-0-1 for first place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The Beavers are also ranked second in the Central Region behind Central Missouri State.
The first objective for Minot State is to win an outright conference title. Minnesota State-Mankato is second with a 9-2-1 conference record.
“No team at Minot State has won an outright Division II conference title,” Minot State coach Jason Spain said. “We won the conference tournament in the past. But we want to win the first-ever regular season title.
“Our team is really sound, on one train. We are all on the same track. It has gone really well.”
Offensively, Ramirez, who goes by "Ninja," is nearly unstoppable. She has earned at least a point in every game, and has scored a goal in all but one game. Ramirez got her 16th goal of the season on Saturday in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie at Minnesota State-Mankato.
“It has been really fun,” Ramirez said. “Our team has gotten along really well. There is no drama on the team. That helps us move forward from here. It is awesome.”
The Beavers showed their cohesiveness on Saturday. They gave up a goal in the 12th minute of the game against the second-place team. But less than four minutes later, Ramirez tied the game.
“It came to me in junior college,” Ramirez said of her nickname. “My name is kind of hard to say for most people. My junior college called me Ninja as a joke and ever since then it has stuck. I think it is a good fit for me so I have carried it since junior college.”
Ramirez is definitely a good fit for Minot State.
“Teams keep marking her and trying to mark her tight,” Spain said. “The tighter they mark her, it is easier for her to roll and get in good position to score.”
Patience and possessing the ball are the keys to Minot State shutting out eight opponents so far this season.
“We are committed to defending from the frontline back,” Spain said. “We have Yesenia Piceno in the back and she is so fast. It allows us to play our defend team a lot higher and that prevents things from happening before we get in a bad spot.
“Our frontrunners have a big hand in that. Our midfielders I think are second to none. We are very organized and communicate well in the back. We just have gotten better at it as we go along.”
Minot State has four games left before the start of the NSIC tournament. The Beavers want to finish strong and get the No. 1 seed in the Central Region. Last year, Minot State made the NCAA tournament and won its first game before falling at Central Missouri.
“That has been the goal since day one,” Spain said. “We want to win the conference and host the NCAA regional tournament at Minot. We want to bring one of those Oklahoma schools up here in the cold. We want a bye. I don’t think we can achieve those goals without winning the conference.”
Two straight wins for Azusa Pacific after suffering first loss
The first real test for a football team that wants to make some noise in the Division II playoffs is how it responds to its first loss.
In the last two weeks, Azusa Pacific has aced that test in impressive form. After losing 27-23 at Colorado School of Mines on Oct. 8, the Cougars have won their next two games by a combined score of 102-13.
“I think it was huge,” said junior defensive end Jason Schwartz on Thursday afternoon before Azusa Pacific beat Simon Fraser 57-0 on Saturday. “It showed a lot of character for our team, knowing it was our first loss.”
In Saturday’s victory, Azusa Pacific tied a Division II record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. The Cougars also recovered a fumble for a touchdown and had a safety.
Schwartz did his part in the spectacular defensive showing by recording 1.5 sacks.
With victories against West Texas A&M and at Humboldt State to start the season, Azusa Pacific knew early on that it had a good team.
“The back-to-back big wins really helped the confidence with our team, especially with our offensive line,” Schwartz said. “A lot of people questioned them at the start of the season because we had a lot of true freshmen and first-year players starting.
“Having those wins started a fire and from there, week in and week out, we were able to get after it in practice and come together as a team from the redshirts to the seniors and rally around each other. We realize every day we have to take it seriously and not take any days off regardless of who we are playing.”
With three games left, two of them Great Northwest Athletic Conference games, the Cougars want to win conference. They are 6-0 in the GNAC. Central Washington is second at 4-1. The two teams will face each other again in their next game on Oct. 29. Azusa Pacific won the first matchup 21-17 at Central Washington on Sept. 17.
“The only thing that is different in the GNAC is we play every team twice, which I personally like because you lose to a team earlier in the season, you have a chance to prove yourself again,” Schwartz said.
“We have goals to win the GNAC, make the playoffs. We take it week by week. We want to go 1-0 each week. If we can do that, we can make the playoffs and make a push when we are in the playoffs.”
Tusculum men’s soccer looking to bounce back from first loss
On Oct. 29, in its final regular season men’s soccer match, Tusculum (Tenn.) has its most important match.
But, of course, Tusculum coach Allen Vital said he was more concerned with the final home match of the season on Sunday against Catawba and then at Coker this Tuesday.
The Pioneers suffered their first loss of the season Wednesday, losing 2-1 in double overtime at Carson Newman. It dropped Tusculum to 12-1.
“Yes, we lost a tough one,” Vital said. “It is a big conference rival game. We are only 45 minutes away. With two minutes left, they got a free kick and put it in and scored. We had the better play. We had more of the ball and more chances. We couldn’t get one to fall in for us.
“You never set out to have an undefeated season. In my 20 seasons at Division II, I never set out to be undefeated. I have been fortunate to have some undefeated seasons. Teams are going to lose some games. We have to approach it that we played very well. Now we have to come back and rebound and try to win the next game and hopefully that gets us back on track.”
The 12 straight wins helped Tusculum to No. 1 in the Southeast Region. When the next regional rankings come out this week, Wingate will likely move into the No. 1 spot. Wingate was second last week and remains undefeated at 13-0 overall and 10-0 in the South Atlantic Conference. Tusculum is 7-1 in conference play.
“Our region is very difficult,” Vital said. “You can have a very good season and be left out. I think we have played a tough schedule. We have been successful playing that schedule. With three games left, this is where you want to be, but there is still some work left to do. We need to make sure we close strong. I would like to think we have done enough that we are one of the best teams in the region.”
Two significant football upsets in Week 8
- Kentucky State, a team that entered Saturday’s road game at No. 5 Tuskegee with a 3-4 record, won its third straight game, pulling out a 10-9 victory. It was Tuskegee’s first loss.
“This game was unbelievable,” Kentucky State coach John Smith said on the school’s website. “I have been part of some monumental wins, but I have never been part of a team that defeated a top five ranked opponent on the road. Plus, we blocked two field goal attempts to do it. You have to give it up to our special teams and our defense.”
- A career-high 177 rushing yards and three touchdowns by senior running back Devon Paye helped West Texas A&M beat No. 4 Midwestern State 35-27. It was the first loss of the season for Midwestern State.