The Limestone women’s soccer team is looking to make its fourth NCAA DII tournament in a row in 2018. Ranked third in the Southeast Region in the first regional rankings, the Saints remain the team to beat in the Conference Carolinas.
It wasn’t always like that on the Gaffney, S.C. campus. In fact, there weren’t many winning seasons at all. It changed rather quickly when the current senior class stepped on the field in 2015, as Limestone has been one of the winningest team’s in DII women’s soccer for the past four seasons.
Just how often do they win? Limestone hasn’t lost a conference game since Oct. 31, 2015, a streak that includes 41-straight conference victories and three Conference Carolinas titles. Captain Holly Rawcliffe has been there for it all. From the Saints first NCAA tournament appearance in 2015 to their record-setting 2016 to their unbelievable run through the conference, Rawcliffe and her fellow seniors make program history on an annual basis.
While Rawcliffe and her Saints have one more regular-season conference game left on the slate to extend that streak, they travel out of conference Wednesday for a huge matchup with the defending national runner-up, Carson-Newman.
“These are the games we want to be playing at the end of the season," Rawcliffe told NCAA.com. "We want to be playing Carson-Newman, they made the national finals last season. We want to challenge ourselves against the best teams. It’s going to be a massive test for us, but if we play well that will put even more belief in us that we can go far in the tournament.”
So, just who is this team that is seemingly unbeatable in conference play? We sat down with Rawcliffe to find out.
Remembering that magical 2015 freshman season in which Limestone made its first-ever NCAA tournament:
The chance to go to the NCAAs was a massive deal for the program. We went into that game not really knowing what to expect. It’s not just a game. You travel, you have overnight trips, it was all very different for us. Even the seniors that had been there for four years had never experienced that before. I think we lost 4-0. The game wasn’t the best, but it was a really good learning experience for all of us.
How the culture changed after setting the program record for wins in a season (18) in 2016:
The team dynamic itself changed. We have that belief that we have some very talented players on this team. We have that belief in each other that we were going to become a successful program, and everything fell into place. We have to give so much credit to our coaches. We knew we could do big things with the chemistry being good.
Three NCAA tournaments in a row, three first-round exits. Is this the team that breaks through?
A hundred percent. This is the most talented team we’ve ever had at Limestone. We have some freshmen that have come in and are doing very well, and sophomores and juniors that have stepped it up. We believe that this is the year that we can come into the tournament and get that first-round win and go as far as we can. I feel that we’ve been unlucky the past few years, we didn’t put our chances away. This is the most we've believed in our program. So, 100 percent, this is going to be a team that makes program history.
When asked who the biggest conference thorn in the Saints side the past four years has been, Rawcliffe didn’t hesitate:
Belmont Abbey. There is a massive rivalry between the two teams. Our games are completely different than other games in the conference. We’re No. 1 in the conference, so every team brings their best to us and changes their tactics, which makes it difficult to break them down, but Belmont Abbey always comes out and gives us a hard game. This is the first year we’ve beaten them by more than a one-goal margin.
The legacy Rawcliffe and her senior class hope to leave behind:
“We came in and we were told to do all we can to leave the program better than it was when we got here. We’ve done that. I think people look at our senior class and see us as role models. They see all the hard work we put into building this program and winning championships and getting to the NCAA tournament. I hope the team over the next few years can keep these run going from what we’ve started as freshmen. That’s all we can ask.”