Lamar Loop: Cardinal soccer wins first ever conference title

Lamar Cardinal soccer champs

Playing in front of their biggest home crowd ever, the Lamar Cardinals came up with their biggest win ever, a 4-1 drubbing of archrival McNeese on Oct. 27, to claim the Southland Conference regular-season championship for the first time in the 11-year history of the LU women’s soccer program.

“What an amazing night,” said head coach Steve Holeman. “We came out and played an amazing game. These girls worked hard all season, and it really paid off tonight.”

The Cardinals (15-3-1 overall, 10-1-0 Southland) got on the board quickly, taking a 1-0 lead while many of the 695 in attendance were attempting to find a place to sit.

M.J. Eckart, one of seven LU seniors honored in pregame Senior Night ceremonies, scored on a penalty kick just 6:11 into the game after LU forward Lucy Ashworth was pulled down in the penalty area. It was the third penalty-kick goal in as many attempts for Eckart this season, and her fifth goal overall.

“It feels unbelievable to score a goal on Senior Night,” Eckart said. “It feels even better to know that we are champions.”

The Cardinals started the second half even hotter than they started the initial period, netting two goals in the first 4:29 to take a 3-0 lead.

Juliana Ocampo scored just 65 seconds into the second half, tallying an unassisted goal after beating Roccaforte from a scramble in front of the cage for her fourth goal of the season. Kelso Peskin made it 3-0 with her team-leading eighth goal just 3:24 after Ocampo’s goal. Laura Parra started the play with a nice pass to Madison Ledet, who fed it to Peskin, who blasted one past Roccaforte.

LU made it 4-0 with 18:54 remaining in regulation as another senior got onto the scoring chart on Senior Day. Defender Tori Alaniz took a pass from Lucy Ashworth and slid one past Roccaforte for her first goal of the season.

The Cards became the first soccer team in Southland history to go from worst to first in one season.

“I’ve dreamed of this even before I played my first college game,” said goalie Lauren Lovejoy. “To win a championship is incredible. I can’t think of a better group of people to do it with. We went through so much these past few years, but it’s all worth it.”

Peskin was honored by the SLC by being named the Newcomer of the Year. Joining Peskin on the first team was Lucy Ashworth at forward, Marie Lund at defender and M.J. Eckart at midfielder. Goalkeeper Lauren Lovejoy and defender Amelia Fullmer were named to the second team.

After winning the regular season championship, Lamar will make its first appearance in the conference tournament since 2012.

Cross country

The men’s cross country team, led by individual champion Jamie Crowe, won its fifth straight Southland Conference championship, and 20th overall, holding off archrival McNeese by the closest of margins Oct. 27.

Meanwhile, the LU women placed second, finishing behind only the host Abilene Christian Wildcats.

In the men’s race, Cardinals and Cowboys each finished with 42 points, putting a tie-breaker scenario into place to determine the champion. In the tie-breaker, the head-to-head finishes of the top five runners from each school are used to determine the winner. LU won four of those five matchups to win the title.

“We had a perfect execution of our race strategy today,” said coach Tony Houchin. “There was absolutely zero margin for error.”

Crowe won the 8-kilometer race in a time of 24:29.1, which was 4.7 seconds better than Nathan Jones of McNeese. As a result of his win, Crowe, a junior transfer, was named the Southland Conference’s men’s cross country athlete of the year and the newcomer of the year.

“This was a fun race to watch,” Houchin said. “It was extremely competitive. McNeese gave us everything they had. We had tons of people step up for us today.”

The Cardinals had five runners in the top 15 on a blustery day in Abilene, with temperatures in the 40s with a strong wind out of the north.

“The weather did not have an effect on us,” Houchin said. “I refuse to make it an issue. Every team has to run in the same conditions.”

LU’s Cormac Kelly was seventh in 24:56.6, just ahead of teammate Matthew Arnold, who was eighth in 24:59.0. Freddie Gasbarri placed 11th in 25:07.1, while Kyle Garcia took 15th in 25:13.9.

In the women’s race, Abilene Christian used a 1-2-3 finish en route to a 29-point win over the second-place Cardinals.

LU’s Evelyn Chavez, the defending Southland Conference champion, finished eighth with a clocking of 21:38.1 for 6 kilometers. Alexandria Hackett of ACU won the race in 20:27.1.

The teams return to action when they compete in the NCAA Regionals, set for Nov. 10 in College Station.

Football

The Cards will look for their first conference win of the season this Homecoming weekend as they host No. 4 Central Arkansas on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 6 p.m.

The Bears (7-1, 6-0) have one loss this season and that came to Kansas State. UCA is undefeated against Lamar with a 3-0 record and come to Beaumont after dismantling No. 18 McNeese, 47-17.

Lamar fell at home 34-7 to Stephen F. Austin. Senior defensive back Jaylon Bowden recorded a career best 13 tackles.

The Cards will once again be without several players this week due to injuries.

“The only weakness I see for Central Arkansas is if their bus breaks down on the way over here,” laughed first year head coach Mike Schultz. They are a senior team that has a lot of swagger. They run a 4-2-5 defense similar to TCU and don’t give up very many explosive plays.”

Schultz also praised the play of Bowden and receiver Isaiah Howard.

“At one time, we had five true freshmen on the field playing last week,” added Schultz. “We had 105 players come into camp this season and 57 were new faces. The kids are resilient, practicing and playing hard. I’ve said it all season — you have to keep going and trust the process. We aren’t going to change a thing. We are going to stay the course. Look at what coach Matt Campbell has done with Iowa State and what he said on Saturday after their big win. If you fall in love with the process, then eventually the process will love you back.”

Men’s golf

Lamar’s Cody Banach finished tied for 18th as the LU men’s golf team placed 12th at the Steelwood Collegiate Invitational that wrapped up Oct. 29.

Banach, who started the day tied for eighth, shot a 7-over-par 79 Sunday to finish at 6-over 222 for 54 holes on the par-72, 7,096-yard layout at the Steelwood Country Club.

As a team, the Cardinals finished the tourney at 69-over-par 933. The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide held on for a one-stroke victory over Kennesaw State for the team title.

R.J. Keur of UAB earned medalist honors with a 54-hole score of 6-under 210, two strokes ahead of four golfers who finished at 4-under 212.

Eason Wang had the best round of the day for LU, posting a 6-over-78 to finish tied for 42nd at 231. Garett James added a 79 for LU as he finished tied for 59th at 239.

The tournament marked the end of the fall season for the Cardinals, who don’t return to competition until they open the spring season.

Volleyball

Junior Tomar Thomas was named the Southland Conference’s offensive player of the week for women’s volleyball on Oct. 30.

The outside hitter/middle blocker had 49 kills over two matches, including a career-high 25 kills in a five-set win at Southeastern Louisiana. For the week, Thomas averaged 5.44 kills per set with a .362 hitting percentage on the week as the Cardinals went 1-1.

“Tomar’s award is well deserved,” said coach Alan Edwards. “She was tremendous in both matches. She keeps learning and keeps getting better.”

Amy Hollowell had a match-high 14 digs, while Haley Morton had 31 assists, but the efforts of Lamar’s two seniors weren’t enough as the Cardinals fell in straight sets to visiting Incarnate Word to put a damper on Tuesday’s Senior Night celebration on Oct. 31.

The Cardinals end the regular season with three straight road contests beginning Nov. 2 at Sam Houston State.

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