Mesa seniors determined to go out winners
They’ve been through a lot in their four years at Mesa State and they’ll take a lot from their experience.
Mesa State College seniors Kira Brannan, Kaitlin Bennett, Brenna Rice, Jami Simpson and Sherilyn Stoffel have been through a coaching change and played with several groups of teammates, yet they could lead the Mavericks to their third RMAC tournament appearance in their four years.
The seniors will be recognized before their final home game against CSU-Pueblo at 7 p.m. Friday at Walker Field. Mesa closes out the regular season at 1 p.m. Sunday at Regis.
“We’ve been thrown into a lot of difficult situations with a lot of coaching changes, which turn into a lot of player changes,” Brannan said. “It’s good life lessons that I’ve taken away from it personally.”
The seniors finished their second year when the program’s first coach, Jim Buchan, resigned and was replaced by Erin Sharpe.
Some teammates left when Buchan was replaced, but Brannan, Bennett, Rice, Simpson and Stoffel stayed, helping lead the program in a different direction.
“This group really embraced the change of culture that we’re trying to implement in this program,” Sharpe said. “They are paving the path for allowing that to happen.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight. They haven’t felt 100 percent of the ramifications of the change, but they’re helping to allow it to happen and are going to be instrumental in us being a national contender.”
Brannan, the team captain, has been at the forefront of that change.
“Kira brings a tremendous amount of leadership to this team, not only on the field but off the field, and that will be sorely missed,” Sharpe said. “She is also an outstanding center midfielder that has provided a lot of consistency for us this year. She’s helped stabilize the team by strengthening the spine (middle) of the team. She’s carried this team as a leader as well.”
The seniors helped lead Mesa State back to the RMAC tournament last year and are hoping to make it again this season.
“We’re a young team, so we go through a lot of ups and downs, but luckily we’ve got a lot of second chances,” Brannan said. “We’re starting to put the right pieces together at the right time. Hopefully, it plays in our favor.
“We’ve been a little unfortunate the last few games. I think no one’s given up. We’re sitting in the right position and doing the right things at the right time to proceed into RMAC.”
Mesa State (9-9-0, 6-8-0 RMAC) is sitting in fifth place in the RMAC standings. Six teams qualify for the RMAC tournament. Three teams, though, could catch the Mavericks, including CSU-Pueblo (5-11-2, 4-9-1 RMAC). Regis has already qualified for the RMAC tournament, but Sunday’s game could be a preview of a first-round matchup.
“I believe we need to win at least one, but I want to win both,” Simpson said. “We just lost to Pueblo, and having it on senior night, it would be awesome to not just win, but blow them out of the water. Hopefully everyone plays well since this is our last couple weeks. Regis, we were so close to beating them. I think we can and will beat them on Sunday.”
The Mavericks, ranked, eighth in the latest NCAA Central Region poll, will likely need to win the RMAC tournament to get an NCAA Division II tournament berth.
Brannan, Rice, Simpson and Stoffel have accounted for four goals and six assists. Bennett made three saves in five games in relief. Stoffel’s career ended two weeks ago when she broke her right leg in a game against Fort Lewis.
“It’s a different atmosphere coming from home (Federal Way, Wash.) to here,” Bennett said. “I’ve learned a lot from everybody. I hope to keep in contact with all of them.”
“Overall, it was a good experiencing the friendships and relationships,” Simpson said. “That’s one of the things I think I’ll miss the most. I feel like I’m going to be bored when I’m done. It’s going to be a weird change how we handle it. It’s kind of sad. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”