Jacks enter Summit League Tournament as host, No. 2 seed

Carson Herbert, Sports Reporter

After a disappointing first-round exit as the top seed in last year’s Summit League Tournament, the South Dakota State women’s soccer team finds itself near the top once again. 

The second-seeded Jackrabbits (14-4-1, 6-1-1 Summit), who ended the regular season one game back of Denver in the league standings, open the 2019 Summit League Women’s Soccer Tournament against third-seeded Oral Roberts (6-8-4, 3-2-3 Summit). 

While this year’s squad has similarities to Jackrabbits teams from recent years, it also experienced a much different ending to the regular season.

The Jacks won three consecutive games to close out the 2018 regular season. In 2017, the team carried a nine-game winning streak into the tournament.

Both seasons ended in a first-round loss in the conference tournament. 

Despite a 12-game winning streak spanning from Sept. 6-Oct. 24, the Jacks went winless in their final two contests of the regular season — tying South Dakota 1-1 and falling 2-1 at Denver.

Senior middle forward Carina McLennan said the Denver loss was a wake-up call for the team.

“The past couple of years, we’ve ended our season on a very good note and maybe that’s why it was kind of detrimental to us in the tournament,” McLennan said. “But I think the loss did help flip a switch and see that we do need to step up our game and be in the right mindset.”

Thursday’s matchup will feature two of the top three scoring players in the Summit League with Leah Manuleleua, senior forward for the Jacks, in second place in the league with 10 goals and ORU senior forward Jordan Langebartels just behind with nine.

ORU went 3-1-1 in its last five games, including double-overtime games against Western Illinois and South Dakota. Altogether, the Golden Eagles have played in five double-overtime matches in 2019, going 1-0-4 in those games.

“Oral Roberts is very quick on their feet,” McLennan said. “They have some really good players that have a lot of skill on the ball and are able to beat people one-on-one. I think for us, we need to come out with some great individual and collective defending as well because if we’re able to break them down on the defensive side and keep that pressure on them, we can get them on the counter-attack.”

In the teams’ Oct. 10 matchup, SDSU defeated the Golden Eagles 1-0 after a weather delay stopped play for over two hours in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“It was a tremendous soccer game,” SDSU coach Brock Thompson said. “It was fast, it had a ton of pace to it, it was end-to-end and open. They’re a good team. They’ve got a couple special players and probably the most dynamic is their forward Jordan Langebartels. But really, our focus is to be really good at being us. Truthfully, I think that’s the only way to prepare our team is to be really good at being who we are.”

This will be the Golden Eagles’ first appearance in the postseason since 2017. 

One strength the Jacks have had all season is the ability to come up big during crunch time. Manuleleua has seven game-winning goals while the Jacks have won seven games with a final score of 1-0.

On the defensive side, opposing teams have had trouble getting the ball past senior goalkeeper Maggie Smither. The two-time Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year leads the nation with 13 shutouts, including 12 straight that coincided with the 12-game win streak. 

If the regular season is any indication about what is to come, the Jacks will carry home field advantage into the tournament after a 9-0 record at Fishback Soccer Park this season.

“Brookings is special and SDSU is special,” said Thompson, now in his third year leading the program. “To be able to play in our own community, it gives our players a little bit of extra energy — there’s no denying that. I know our players don’t want to play anywhere else.”

The 2019 tournament marks the sixth time Brookings has hosted the tournament since SDSU joined the Summit League.

The tournament will begin at 3 p.m. Thursday with No. 1 seed Denver (11-4-3, 7-0-1 Summit) against No. 4 seed North Dakota (10-7-1, 4-4-0 Summit). SDSU and ORU will kick off at 6 p.m. The winners of the first-round games will play at noon Saturday in the championship game.

Thompson says there is one main focus heading into the conference tournament.

“Finding the right mix of intensity and intelligence,” he said. “I think the tendency is sometimes when pressure games pop up, teams tend to navigate all the way to one end of the spectrum or the other and I think you have to find the right balance.”