Mesa women's soccer team wants to host RMAC tourney, go farther in regionals this year
A taste of playing in the NCAA Division II tournament has the Colorado Mesa University women’s soccer team hungry for more.
The Mavericks made a late-season run last year to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years. Now, they expect to go back but will face more competition to do it this year.
“I’ve noticed we have more of the mentality (that) it’s not an option to get into regionals,” CMU senior midfielder Kelci Crispe said. “It’s what we’re going to do. One of our main goals is to host the RMAC (tournament).”
Colorado Mesa (10-8-4, 7-3-4 RMAC last year) has 17 returning players, including eight regular starters, led by all-region selections Crispe and defender Samantha Burneo, a preseason All-RMAC pick this season.
“We saw that not getting first in our conference made us play extra games,” Burneo said. “This year, we’re hoping to do even better, get first, host the (RMAC) tournament and get a couple byes, so we’re fresher.”
Colorado Mesa coach Erin Sharpe said last year’s experience and success are valuable because the region got larger and stronger.
The 10 teams in the RMAC are paired with the eight-team Lone Star Conference and the six-team Heartland Conference in the South Central Region to compete for six NCAA tournament spots. The RMAC was in the Central Region with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference last season.
“The Lone Star Conference in many ways is similar to the RMAC, with many very good teams. It’s a top-to-bottom tough conference,” Sharpe said. “With a third conference in this region, we lose one of the at-large bids. We used to have four (bids), now we have three, and we’re competing against a stronger conference than the Northern Sun.
“The last two years we’ve sent five RMAC teams to the NCAA tournament. Now, we’re looking at two or three. It depends on how the regional games go these first two weekends.”
The Mavericks open the season with three games against Lone Star Conference teams, beginning with West Texas A&M University on Friday in Wichita Falls, Texas.
CMU’s home opener is Sept. 14 against 10th-ranked Fort Lewis College.
“With the goals and objectives we have, anything less is not acceptable to our expectations, so we’ve got to compete with them,” Sharpe said.
The Mavericks have a strong defense returning with Burneo, Jessica Kent and goalkeeper Sarah Schnetzler.
Sophomore Lexi Zumwalt is back, and redshirt freshman Gina Goryoka transferred from Coastal Carolina University and could see time in goal.
“We have a really, really strong defense,” Crispe said. “That helps us have more confidence on the midfield and forward line. We can stay up on the attack more and trust our defense has our backs.”
Mesa landed University of Pacific transfer Renae McFadden to bolster the offense and take some of the pressure off sophomore forward Daniela Salinas, who led the Mavericks in scoring with four goals and five assists. Taylor Franklin and Kaitlynn Holt return with three goals each.
“Renae (McFadden) is a very special player,” Sharpe said. “We’re looking forward to what she can do in our conference and region.
“I knew Renae from back when I was in northern California. She was a well-known player in the youth ranks there. She wanted an opportunity to play up top a little bit more. She was playing a lot of defense over there. She scored a lot of goals in training. We’re hoping it translates to the fall season.”
McFadden transferred in the spring.
“I’m excited,” Crispe said. “I think it’s going to be the best year yet. We all stick together through everything. That’s going to show on the field, I think.”