Conference title in sight for women's soccer

The University of Louisville women's soccer team will close out regular season play on Friday at Cincinnati.

With one game remaining on their regular season schedule, the University of Louisville women's soccer team has put together one of program's best seasons in recent memory.

Ranked No. 19 in the RPI poll, and No. 1 in the American Athletic Conference, the team has compiled an 11-4-1 record and is currently playing their best soccer of the year with the conference and national tournaments still in front of them.

"What I think I can attribute the success we're having now to, in all honesty, is some of the early disappointments," head coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes said

The Cardinals struggled at the beginning of the season, going 1-2-1 in their first four games before having their fifth game (against No. 11 Wake Forest) cancelled due to weather. The losses were heartbreakers, too, as the team fell in double-overtime to Illinois and tied Virginia Tech in one extra period.

In order to boost their strength of schedule, the Cardinals undertook a brutal stretch of non- conference games to start the year- including meetings with No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 11 Wake Forrest, and Kentucky, who at 12-3-1 has been in and out of the rankings throughout the season.

"I thought we played well in games like Illinois and Kentucky, but didn't necessarily get the results," Ferguson-Dayes said. "But we're starting to click and we're playing really well right now. I think that having the difficult non-conference schedule and having a great group of kids that have been able to persevere through some of the adversity has put us in the position that we're in now."

Since the slow start, the Cardinals have won 10 out of their last 12 games- the two losses coming by a point apiece to two top-ten teams in No. 5 Marquette and No. 9 Central Florida.

When looking back on the season as whole, senior defender Chelsea Hunter echoes Ferguson- Dayes‘ sentiment that the early struggles are a big reason the Cardinals have come together at the perfect time.

"I think we had some obstacles in the beginning that we were able to learn and grow from," Hunter said. "I think that's really helped us in our success over the season."

"We're feeling great (right now), we feel connected as a team, we're playing great soccer, we have great energy. I think we're on the up-and-up from here on out."

With at least two games still ahead of them, the Cardinals have already one-upped their win total from last season. The team believes that their 2013 success is a testament to the leadership provided by the team's eight seniors- a group that Ferguson-Dayes says has helped the team "stay focused" throughout the season.

"(The seniors) all get significant minutes; three of us are captains. Having a big senior class can bring a lot of experience and wisdom and leadership," Hunter said. "Just stepping up in those moments of adversity and positively influencing our teammates to do something better is a way (we can) help drive this team deep into the postseason."

After experiencing heartbreak last year, the senior-laden Cardinals are hungry to make a deep run in the upcoming tournament. The team was left out of the NCAA Tournament field last season- a moment they still have not forgotten.

"Being left out (of the NCAA Tournament) last year was a disappointment for our senior class now, our junior class then," Ferguson-Dayes said. "They've been on a mission since that last game last year to make sure that that bitter taste in their mouth, when we sat in that room and weren't selected to the NCAA Tournament, (doesn't happen again)."

"This group wasn't going to let this team (miss the tournament)."

Remembering last season, Hunter calls the exclusion "heartbreaking," but notes that it served as motivation for this season. "There's definitely a chip on our shoulder," Hunter said.

The Cardinals are focused on postseason success in the coming weeks, but that doesn't mean that team is overlooking their final regular season match, which will take place Friday at Cincinnati.

"Cincinnati is always a rivalry game, so we always want to go out there and work hard and get a win out of it," Hunter said.

Getting a win on Friday night would secure the Cardinals as the top seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament, which would reward the team with a first round bye, and allow them to host the first two rounds at Cardinal Park.

"We've still got one more regular season game to finish out and then we can get excited about the tournament," Ferguson-Dayes said.

If the Cardinals continue to play the way they have as of late, they have plenty to be excited about.

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