Conference Domination: Women’s soccer moves past conference competition, sits atop the Atlantic 10 rankings

Sophomore forward Ella Higgins competes against Saint Joseph’s University to gain possession in an Oct. 24 match. Photo by Jay Stonefield

Arrick Wilson, Contributing Writer

Last season, the VCU women’s soccer program failed to qualify for the Atlantic 10 championship tournament, losing in a coin flip for the No. 4 seed tiebreaker in the conference tournament to Dayton. This ended the Rams’ season with a record of seven wins, four losses and two ties. 

Now this season, the Rams have dominated conference play while earning national rankings and winning the A-10 regular-season championship. The Rams also took home their first A-10 regular-season championship in history after defeating the Davidson Wildcats on Thursday, 2-1. 

“I think this year, our team culture’s really good, and everybody contributes, like people on the bench will cheer for us,” said redshirt-senior forward Samantha Jerabek. “People, the subs, coming in that are really good too. So I think this year, it’s going to be our year.”

The Rams ended their regular season at home, falling to the Saint Joseph’s Hawks on Sunday. The Rams lost 1-0, shorting their record-breaking nine-game winning streak. Saint Joseph’s junior midfielder Ashley Orendac scored a goal in the 87th minute, breaking the deadlocked contest. 

On that night, the ninth-straight win for the Rams tied the program record for the longest winning streak.

Currently, the Rams are ranked first in the A-10, with a record of 13 overall wins and three losses. 

“I’m extremely pleased and proud of our performances to create each of those nine wins, because they were all difficult. You know, none of them came easy to us,” said head coach Lindsey Martin, who is now in her ninth season as coach of the women’s soccer team.

Along with becoming regular-season champions, the Rams have earned the No. 1 seed in the A-10 postseason tournament this season, which begins on Oct. 30. Martin attributed this to the team having a “winner’s mentality.”

“I think for the girls to be able to find a way to win is a culture of winning and it becomes a mentality — and a winner’s mentality. I think that that’s an important piece … heading into this A-10 tournament of having that winner’s mentality,” Martin said.

Along with placing atop the A-10 rankings, the Rams are ranked 39th nationally by the NCAA women’s soccer RPI, or rating percentage index. 

Last year, Jerabek was named to the A-10 All-Conference First Team and has led the Rams in points with 17, ranking fourth in the conference. Jerabek also led the team in goals with six, ranking third in the A-10 conference.  

Jerabek was also named A-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Week for games played Sept. 13-19. That week, on Sept. 19, Jerabek scored a game-winning double-overtime goal, securing the Rams’ win against George Washington. 

“I think for me, it’s just like an award, and I just want to rack up some goals and assists, and just help out the team as much as I can,” Jerabek said.

The Rams are led by Jerabek and other key redshirt seniors, including midfielder Emma Kershner, and goalkeeper Grace Young. Last season, all three players were either a part of the A-10 First Team or Second Team. 

“I think that there’s a lot of good young players on this team that did not see the minutes they ordinarily would have saw, just because of how experienced we were that a lot of those fifth years and true seniors just took all that time,” Martin said when talking about the trio’s heavy contributions to the Rams this season.

Young was a defensive anchor for the Rams early in the season. In the first 150 minutes of the season, Young did not allow a goal, and was also named A-10 Defensive Player of the Week for games played Sept. 20-26. 

“I feel really proud of it,” Young said when talking about her accomplishments from earlier in the season.

Young also attributed some accomplishments to the team’s backline for defending well and making her job of defending the goal easier. 

“I also like to thank my backline for being strong and solid. They don’t let a lot of shots come through and it’s kind of my job to clean up the last few that they do,” Young said. 

The Rams will have a rematch in the first round of the A-10 tournament versus their only A-10 loss to the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, which broke the Rams’ chances of furthering their breaking record of nine consecutive wins. The Rams will look for the chance to end the Hawks’ season by defeating them in the first round. The Rams are also optimistic about postseason being played at Sports Backers Stadium in Richmond.

“We’re really fortunate that [the A-10 tournament] will be at VCU. You know, if we were able to make our way through the quarter, semis and finals, … I think that’s going to be a fun experience for us and one that I hope we’re able to create for ourselves,” Martin said.

The Rams start their postseason in the first round of the A-10 tournament on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. versus No. 8 Saint Joseph’s, at the Sports Backers Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN+. For ticket information, visit vcuathletics.com.

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