Dacotah Field will play host to the 35th annual Summit League women’s soccer tournament as Denver, Oral Roberts and South Dakota State come to town looking to win and earn a bid to the NCAA national tournament. South Dakota State comes in as the reigning tournament champions, whereas the Bison enter as regular season champions for the second year in a row, with a record of 5-2-1. As the top seed in the tournament, the Herd will face ORU at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3. Denver will square off against SDSU in the following match at 3:00 p.m. The winners of those games will face each other for the championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Bison have unfinished business from last season where they were the regular season champions but were unable to win the tournament. This time, with the home field advantage on their side, they are looking to win it all and reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history. NDSU has made it to the NCAA tournament once before, in 2010, but they lost to Texas A&M in a penalty kick shootout in the first round.
Thanks to their home field advantage, the Bison come in as tournament favorites despite the competitive field. All four teams enter the tournament with five wins in conference play, and the Bison are 1-1-1 against the opposition. The Bison defeated their first round opponent ORU by a score of 1-0 on Oct. 2 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, behind Amy Yang’s penalty kick goal and Monica Polgar’s shutout. The Herd have not enjoyed as much success against the Jackrabbits and Pioneers, however. NDSU tied Denver 0-0 and lost to SDSU 1-0, at home on both occasions.
The Bison are arguably the best defensive team in the conference, allowing just five goals in conference play and 19 the entire season. Only Denver, with four, have allowed fewer conference goals. Their first round tilt with ORU will be a matchup of a strong defense against a strong offense. ORU’s 37 goals this season lead the conference, and they’re led by Lexi Jones, who, along with NDSU’s Holly Enderle, leads the conference in goals with 10. The Golden Eagles outshot the rest of the conference with 344 shots this season, and will likely put NDSU’s goalkeeping tandem of Polgar and Julia Edelstein to the test.
The Bison couple their dominant defense with a powerful offense. NDSU’s 33 goals on the season are second to only ORU. Enderle is their top scorer, but she is not the only piece to the puzzle. Yang and Mariah Haberle both have six assists this year and keep the offense running from the midfield. Yang and Lizzie Lukas have also added four goals.
Like NDSU, both Denver and South Dakota State boast stout defenses anchored by their goalkeepers. SDSU goalie Maggie Smither is one of the conference’s best, leading the conference in save percentage and goals against. She and Nicole Inskeep have led their team. Cassidy Rey and Brittany Wilson have also played an instrumental role in Denver’s success this season.
With the benefit of home field advantage and one of the most well balanced team’s in the Summit League, the Bison will need to navigate some tough competition to win the tournament. The Herd hope that Saturday evening at Dacotah Field, they’ll be the ones celebrating.