The UWM women’s soccer team, after years of postseason frustration, finally got its celebration. The Panthers have reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
UWM beat Cleveland State, 1-0, in Saturday Night’s Horizon League Championship finals at Engelmann Stadium, thus earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UWM had advanced to the league title game in each of the two previous years, only to see its season end there.
The Panthers, owners of a 16-1-1 record, open NCAA Tournament play at third-seeded Santa Clara University 3 p.m. Saturday (Central time). Santa Clara is 16-3-1, and the West Coast Conference runners-up are seventh in the NCAA’s RPI rankings, while UWM checks in at No. 90. Should UWM advance, it will face either Northwestern University or North Carolina State in the second round. NCAA powerhouse North Carolina is the top seed in UWM’s quadrant of the bracket, while the second seed is UCLA.
Saturday night’s game-winner came in the 57th minute under unlikely circumstances from an unlikely player – UWM’s Kelli Swenson, the Horizon League’s defensive player of the year.
From about 40 yards out near the right touchline, Swenson sent a free kick into Cleveland State’s penalty box, looking for a teammate to get on the end of it. But rather than finding a fellow Panther, the ball instead found the back of the net, bouncing once about six yards out and continuing, untouched, inside the far post.
UWM made the goal stand for the remaining 30-plus minutes. The final whistle blew, setting off celebrations from the Panthers and a few hundred fans who filled Engelmann’s stands.
Swenson, who’d scored only two other goals this season, was named the league tournament’s most valuable player.
The victory continued a remarkable season for the Panthers, who didn’t lose a single Horizon League game.
For more information, including NCAA Tournament details, visit mkepanthers.com.