Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Women’s Soccer’s Impressive Run Ends in WAC Championship


Seattle University Women’s Soccer’s season has come to a close. After winning their first two games in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Tournament, the Redhawks would face Grand Canyon University (GCU) in the championship game. With a win, the team would clinch its sixth WAC title in program history and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for Seattle U, GCU’s offense would prove overwhelming. The Antelopes, with a conference-best +35 goal differential by season’s end, came into the tournament as a dark horse at the No. 4 seed. They would end the Redhawks’ nine-game unbeaten streak in a 4-2 win.

The four goals let in tied the most allowed by Seattle U all season. Still, head coach Julie Woodward remained proud of the team—which “ran out of gas” by her estimation, after her short-handed squad played three games in six days.

“Not being able to play as many players as we would’ve liked in our first game to make that game a little easier on us caught up on us at the end of the tournament,” Woodward said. “I believe that Saturday, the championship game, was a bit of an off-day for us.”

Being short on players was not a new issue for Seattle U. Severe injuries knocked out several starters early in the season, including their top goal scorer from last season, Sophomore midfielder U’i Kaaihue. Kaaihue played four games in August before missing the rest of the season due to injury.

“It’s really tough when you see someone like U’i go down for the year, she was our leading goal scorer last year,” Woodward said. “We had a few of those season-ending injuries and then a few games weren’t going our way.”

It was a season of crushing valleys and extreme highs for the 10-9-2 (W-L-D) Redhawks. That nine-game unbeaten streak they looked invincible during was preceded by a 25-day winless streak in September. Tough losses to Yale (4-0) and GCU (3-0) early in the year emphasized the rough patch. In both games, the Redhawks allowed three goals in a 20-minute stretch.

“Earlier in the year… if we got down in a game, I thought our response needed to be better. I do think we made great strides,” Woodward said. “Taking a step from this season to next season and getting even better at that would be helpful.”

Considering what the team had been through and their postseason success, Junior defender and WAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Kait Raffensperger emphasized the sense of pride the team feels.

“We had so much adversity this year and we lost so many talented players,” Raffensperger said. “Once we learned to play together as a team, we went on our nine-game run.”

Freshman goalkeeper Kassidy Kirgan won WAC Freshman of the Year and had a huge part to play in that run. Kirgan played 1763 minutes this season—which is the fifth-highest total of any Redhawk keeper since 2009. With injuries mounting up on offense, Kirgan and the defense knew they would need to play to their potential.

“We knew that we had the talent in the backline and if we could reassure our team that we could keep the ball out of the back of the net, then we knew once our offense got rolling… we were going to be pretty unstoppable,” Kirgan said.

With 24 goals allowed in 21 games, defense was the name of the game for Seattle U. The Redhawks spread the scoring around evenly—no single player scored more than three goals on the season. No player except for Sophomore midfielder Caroline Penner, who finished the season with eight goals in the final nine games of the season. With four goals in her entire career since the beginning of October, the heavy scoring role was a noticeable change for Penner.

“I will say our offense really started clicking once we got Penner and [Senior forward Hallie] Bergford… pretty healthy, our offense [started] clicking and Caroline went on a run there, I mean she was just on fire,” Woodward said. “Having that along with, gosh, our defensive unit that was not giving up goals, that combined together really made us dangerous.”

The Redhawks’ strong close to the season made a chance at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament possible, spots reserved for the best teams that didn’t win their respective conferences. But after the dust settled on selection day Nov. 6, Seattle U remained out of the bracket.

“We would need to put together a full season of performing at our best, and this year just wasn’t that for us,” Raffensperger said, of what it takes to earn an at-large spot.

With their last appearance in the NCAA Tournament coming in 2019, The Redhawks will start their preparation for another deep run this spring. With lessons in mental fortitude and togetherness being learned, along with key players returning from injury, 2024 could be special.

“I’m really excited for next year and I think that could be our year,” Raffensperger said.

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Qasim Ali, Sports & Opinion Editor

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