With just five games remaining, times have never been more desperate for the women’s soccer team. A California road trip this weekend pits the Rams against Fresno State on Friday and San Jose State on Sunday in what will be a defining series for this year’s team.
CSU is currently tied for 11th place in the Mountain West Conference with Fresno State. The two teams, however, are only five points back from the 6th place Wyoming Cowboys and a berth in the MWC tournament. With so much uncertainty throughout the conference, every team is still in contention for a playoff spot, something head coach Bill Hempen fully understands.
“The thing about the conference this year is everyone is beating everyone else,” Hempen said. “That’s a good thing for us because we’re hanging on. But it’s time for us to flip the switch here.”
There is no better time to flip that switch than on Friday against Fresno State in a game that has make or break potential for the entire season. A win pushes the Rams three points up the ladder and separates them from the bottom of the conference. A loss, on the other hand, forces the Rams to instead watch Fresno vault up the standings and gives Nevada the opportunity to escape the cellar of the MWC.
Despite struggling to this point in the season, Fresno State boasts one of the conference’s leading scorers in junior forward Myra Delgadillo. Delgadillo’s 21 points are good for third most in the conference behind two players who have already given the Rams fits this year, Jessica Brooksby from Utah State (24 points) and Lily Sender from UNLV (23 points). Having struggled against the conference’s elite already, Hempen stresses a team-wide effort to slow her down.
“Know where she is all the time,” Hempen said. “If you can identify that player and get help with (her) — and this is something we talk about with our players — so that your teammate is never caught in a one-on-one situation. Their job in a one-on-one is to slow them down so that you’ve got, as I tell them, help on the way. It turns from a one-on-one to one versus two and that’s much more difficult to beat.”
Sunday’s game against San Jose State presents a different struggle for the Rams. Last year’s MWC tournament champions are led by sophomore goalkeeper Paige Simoneau. Behind her conference leading 0.53 goals against average and 0.861 save percentage, the Spartans currently sit in 5th place in the conference.
“We need to make her make the save that keeps her team in the game,” Hempen said. “Instead of making it routine, they have to be challenging. Obviously a good goalkeeper is priceless. They can keep your team in games and win games for you. But they can also be beaten.”
Like so many games this season, the weekend series may come down to finding the player who can make the play to put their team in a position to win. The Utah States and UNLVs of the conference have found that player while the Rams are still searching. Although not having that finisher can be a struggle, it also provides more players the opportunity to make a game-changing play.
“We don’t have a cleanup hitter, we don’t have a LeBron James,” Hempen said. “We’ve got a group… I tell our kids, at some point every game has its moment. Who’s gonna pick that moment to shine?”
The first of two critical matches, Friday’s game against Fresno State kicks off at 3 p.m. Mountain time.
Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_