The Loras College women’s soccer team put forth a season for the record books that culminated with the program’s first appearance in the Final Four. The Duhawks lost one game throughout their history-making season and it came during the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Division III National Semifinals.
Even as they bowed out of the tournament one game shy of the championship game, the Duhawks showed the grit and talent they played with all year in taking eventual national champions Christopher Newport University to overtime in a 1-0 loss.
The Duhawks started their postseason run on Nov. 3 with a 1-0 double-overtime win against Luther College in the American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) Semifinals. They then cruised past Wartburg College 4-1 in the championship game to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament. The conference tournament win marked the 16th title in program history.
In the NCAA Division III Tournament, the Duhawks shutout their first three opponents with a combined score of 6-0. Loras earned the chance to host the first four rounds of the tournament and made history with their Sweet 16 and Elite 8 victories inside the Rock Bowl. The women only conceded more than one goal in two games all year, with the second coming against the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the quarterfinals, a game that came down to penalty kicks. The Duhawks advanced past the Eagles in penalties with the game-winner by Dubuque native, Savannah Johnson (’24), to clinch their spot in the national championship semifinals.
The women’s soccer team, along with many of their fans, made the 900-mile trip to Greensboro, N.C., to take on No. 5-ranked Christopher Newport University for the national semifinal matchup. In a back-and-forth battle, neither team was able to take control. With a scoreless tie at the end of regulation, the Duhawks headed into their fifth overtime game of the season. Despite a valiant defensive effort by goalkeeper Kyndal Kells (’24), Newport’s leading goal scorer Riley Cook capitalized on a scoring opportunity to end the game in the 93rd minute to see the Captains advance in the tournament.
A historic season resulted in a number of players earning accolades for their efforts. The Duhawks saw seven players get A-R-C All-Conference with junior Payton McDonnell (’23) receiving the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Junior Olivia Lansing (’23) was a Third Team selection and Brynn Jacobi (’22) became a four-time All-Conference honoree. All three received All-Region awards by the United Soccer Coaches (USC) as well and McDonell also received All-American status after leading the Division in assists with twenty-four. For their performances in the national tournament, Jacobi and senior Ryleigh O’Brien (’22) were also named to the NCAA Division III All-Tournament Team.
Duhawk talent was present in more than just the pitch. In addition to the athletic awards, Jacobi and McDonnell were recognized for their academic achievements as CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, marking Jacobi’s second career award and McDonnell’s first. Lansing and McDonnell also earned Scholar All-Region nods with McDonnell became the third Scholar All-American in the last three years. The Duhawks’ coaching staff of Matt Pucci (’08), Jill Leibforth (’15) and Chris Higgins were honored as the A-R-C Coaching Staff of the Year.