Two titles were decided in Friday's soccer match between Kansas University and Iowa State, but the most important one was the Jayhawks' winning a share of the Big 12 Conference regular-season championship.
KU pounded the Cyclones, 4-0, in front of a crowd of 886 at Jayhawk Soccer Complex.
In addition to the Big 12 crown, the other title was the team's overall goal-scoring race. Forwards Caroline Smith and Rachel Gilfillan entered the match with seven goals apiece, but Smith scored twice while Gilfillan tallied one.
KU now is tied with Texas A&M; atop the conference standings with both teams owning an 8-2 record in Big 12 play. The sixth-ranked Jayhawks will share the regular-season title with the 13th-ranked Aggies, despite the Jayhawks' 1-0 victory over the Aggies last week. The Big 12 doesn't have a tiebreaker for the regular-season title.
Regardless, KU coach Mark Francis said any part of the championship was a step forward. It was the first Big 12 title for a Kansas women's team since basketball won the conference in 1997.
"For the athletics department, it's great. It's the first women's Big 12 championship in a long time," Francis said. "It helps our ability as an athletics department. You can be successful here, you can win championships here, and we're given the resources to do that."
The game was a culmination of the progress the Jayhawks have made in the careers of seven seniors who played their last home regular season game.
"This is a piece of a puzzle we'd like to keep putting together here," said senior goalkeeper Megan Miller, who made one save in 60 minutes.
The Jayhawks will advance to the Big 12 tournament next week as a guaranteed top seed. They will play Iowa State at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Blossom Soccer Stadium in San Antonio.
Kansas kept possession in its offensive zone throughout most of the game, applying constant pressure to the beleaguered Cyclones defense. The scoring started early after a couple near-misses following the opening kickoff.
Just when it appeared Iowa State would move the action out of its own zone, Cyclones forward Kate Kirwan turned the ball over to Holly Gault at midfield. Gault moved the ball forward to Gilfillan, who slipped the ball past goalkeeper Johanna Haig low to the right side in the ninth minute.
Gault picked up another assist on Smith's first goal 12 minutes later when she took possession deep in the Cyclones' defensive half. Pressure from ISU defenders forced Gault to pass the ball back to midfielder Gabriela Quiggle, and she dished to Smith near the top of the penalty box who turned and scored to increase the Jayhawks' lead to two.
The rest of the first half would end with the Jayhawks controlling the ball offensively, forcing five shots on goal against the Cyclones' one. Kansas' defense had some lapses in the first half, but gave no room for more than a couple of Iowa State scoring chances, each of which were snuffed out by Miller.
"I thought we looked shaky in the first half. We gave them too much space," Francis said. "In the second half we were very solid."
The offense also played very solid in the second half. Smith took a bouncing pass from defender Stacy Leeper and shot a laser toward the right side of the net from 35 yards out. The goal surprised nearly everyone, including Francis.
"I was about to get off the bench and rip her for not taking the player on," Francis said. "So I sat down pretty quick."
Haig never had a chance at the shot, but the 3-0 score chased her from the net as Cyclones goalkeeper Laura Boyer relieved her in the 50th minute.
The goalie change didn't slow the KU offense as Smith would assist on a Monica Brothers goal three minutes later. Smith coasted past a challenge from Cyclones defender Erin Weldon on the right side and crossed the ball to Brothers for the goal.
Miller was substituted in the 60th minute for Colleen Quinn, who made her second appearance of the season. Quinn never seriously was tested as Iowa State finished the game with only two shots on goal.
The Jayhawks received a scare in the 59th minute when Leeper was brought off the field because of an injury. Francis said the extent of the injury was not immediately known.
|When: 11 a.m. Wednesday.Where: Blossom Soccer Stadium in San Antonio.Who: No. 1 seed Kansas University (16-3 overall, 8-2 Big 12) vs. No. 8 seed Iowa State (7-11, 4-6).|
The second half ended with fresh players from the bench taking over for the seniors.
"We were playing for all those guys because they've been playing since the program really got going here," Smith said.
The 4-0 final was the offensive outburst the Jayhawks needed after scoring just one goal in two matches against Texas A&M; and Texas last weekend.
"I think today was a great show of what we can do offensively," Brothers said.
The Jayhawks will move on to the Big 12 tournament next week before likely earning an NCAA berth, but no one is looking past the task at hand.
"Everything is on the line," Smith said. "You have to leave everything on the field or your season is over."