Been there, done that.
For the 18th time in program history, the Washington University in St. Louis women’s soccer team returns to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Championship tournament, this time facing Calvin University at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 17, at Francis Olympic Field. Still, Head Coach Jim Conlon said this squad is unlike any he has coached before.
“This group of seniors started during the pandemic, and seeing how they have bonded and persevered as leaders is really special,” Conlon said. “I’d encourage Bear Nation to come out and see what this team is made of. What we are doing on the field is spectacular.”
Ranked No. 2 in the nation, the Bears team accomplished much this season — achieving a regular season record of 14-1-2, winning its eighth University Athletic Association (UAA) title in nine years and placing six Bears on the 2023 UAA All-Association Team.
But its most outstanding stat is two — as in the total number of goals the Bears have allowed during regular season and tournament play. All in all, goalie Sidney Conner, a senior studying psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, has 34 career shutouts, a new program record.
“We are all in awe,” said midfielder Jessica Greven, a senior studying biochemistry in Arts & Sciences.
Conner’s talent is undeniable, but often goes untested thanks to the Bears’ stellar defense. During last weekend’s tournament play, Conner faced a total of two shots on goal.
“Every player on this team is a defender,” Greven said. “A lot of teams will isolate defense just to the back line or maybe to the back line and a couple of the midfielders. But something that’s special about this team is that our defense starts with our forwards. We don’t just start defending when the ball gets close to us.”
Greven is pumped for this weekend’s play. Unlike last year, when the Bears squeaked into the tournament only to lose early, this squad knows it has earned its spot. And yet she also feels melancholy. This could be the last time she and her fellow seniors play on what they call “Sacred Francis.”
“We take pride playing on this field. Our goal going into every single game, particularly on this field, is for a shutout. And we’ve been pretty successful in that, I would say,” Greven said. “But more than that, I value the relationships I have made on this field. When we came in four years ago, we didn’t even have a season. That experience made us realize what a privilege it is to be around each other every single day.”
Francis Field also will welcome University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Loras College for a 1:30 p.m. match Nov. 17. If victorious against Calvin, the Bears will face the winner of that match at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Francis Field.