Ammon Bennett knows his Casper College women’s soccer team is in for a battle when it hosts Western Wyoming Community College in the semifinals of the Region IX Tournament on Friday at Murane Field.
When the teams met back on Sept. 17 in Casper, the 19th-ranked Thunderbirds (11-4-1) got a goal from freshman Grace Conner in the 38th minute and held on for the 1-0 victory. Bennett expects another hard-fought game Friday.
“Western Wyoming is a physical group,” he said. “They like to strike the ball long and play with pace ... they’ll try to wear you out.
“The last time we played I thought we controlled play for the first 60-65 minutes and after that they were in control, but we were able to hang on.”
The T-Birds have rebounded after a sluggish start. They were 3-3-0 following a 2-1 loss at Northeastern Junior College on Sept. 8 to open Region IX play. The T-Birds then put together an eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1) to win the Region IX regular-season championship before a 2-1 loss to defending Region IX champ Laramie County Community College.
“Early in the year we were making mistakes on the back end,” Bennett explained. “And a lot of the goals we were giving up were a result of some untimely errors and bad bounces. But I think we’ve gotten to a point where teams have to earn their goals against us.”
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Since the loss to Northeastern, goals have been hard to come by for opposing teams. After allowing eight goals in the first six games, the T-Birds have been downright stingy on the back end in front of freshman goalkeeper Rebecca Swain. They surrendered just three goals during the unbeaten streak and posted six shutouts.
“And two of those were own-goals,” Bennett said.
Swain has allowed just 11 goals on the season and has a 0.91 goals against average.
Offensively, the T-Birds have a number of scoring options. Conner and classmate Paige Mayer lead the team with five goals apiece, while sophomore Sydney Hiatt and freshman Alyssa Seaich have four each and sophomores Kylie Spangler (Kelly Walsh) and Danielle Greminger have three apiece.
“It would be nice to have one main scoring option,” Bennett said, “but I think our balance has helped us. We’ve got six kids that are dangerous around the net.”
Casper College opened tournament play with a 3-0 shutout of Central Wyoming College last week after almost a two-week layoff because of weather conditions. The T-Birds improved to 7-1-1 at home this season after opening with a 2-0 loss to Utah State-Eastern.
Western Wyoming CC (11-4-2) defeated Trinidad State College in its opener to extend its unbeaten streak to nine games.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Bennett said. “Whichever team makes the least amount of mistakes is probably going to be the team that wins.”
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN