Heartbreak in Natchitoches; How NSU soccer came short of back-to-back titles


Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services

A little scrappy at times, both the Lions and the Lady Demons itched for an opportunity to make some major strides and send their team to the conference championship.

Friday’s last semifinal match in the Southland Conference Women’s Soccer Tournament ended in a heartbreaker for the Natchitoches crowd. In dramatic, double-overtime fashion, Texas A&M University-Commerce defeated Northwestern State in a 3-2 victory, sending the Lions to their first Southland Conference Tournament Championship in program history.

A little scrappy at times, both the Lions and the Lady Demons itched for an opportunity to make some major strides and send their team to the conference championship. In the end, the Lions and their stacked young group found a way to win when it mattered.

The Lady Demons started the match with a strong wind gust going in their direction. NSU with a masterful offensive push became unable to lace any shots into the back of the net. A goal from Southland Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year Gracie Armstrong’s goal put the Lady Demons in front in the 30th minute. After a couple of back-and-forth battles between the Lady Demons and the Lions, NSU held their own heading into halftime.

NSU tallied 14 shots in the first half against Commerce’s two, creating more confidence for the Lady Demons. After the whistle blew for the second half to kickoff, the Lions found a resurgence of momentum quickly.

Commerce broke free after a Lady Demon-dominant first half and went to work, finding more ball possession around midfield and inside their attacking third of the field. Lions defender Mindy Shoffit would equalize the score in the 66th minute off of an Ashley Campuzano corner kick from the far side.

Campuzano would score her second goal of the tournament when she laced a free kick above Lady Demons goalkeeper Chloe DeShazer to take the 2-1 lead in the 69th minute. After more back and forth, the Lady Demons found an opportunity to regain a tie as Gracie Armstrong placed a penalty kick ball into the bottom right corner during the 79th minute.

The match would turn to overtime with 20 minutes to make noise. The Lady Demons would receive the ball first with the wind going in their direction, but after the first overtime, the score would still remain 2-2.

In what seemed like the battle-tested Lady Demons’ chance to make a second consecutive appearance in the conference title game, it was Lauren Shaw in the 106th minute who would break the tie for the Lions with a header to secure Commerce’s first appearance in a Division I conference title match.

Despite the loss ultimately ending their season, NSU under second-year head coach Stuart Gore found a way to be successful throughout the majority of the season. Accomplishing the No. 2 seed in the conference postseason is a testament to how much fight and persistence the Lady Demons were throughout the regular season.

Last year’s regular season and tournament titles only proved little of the capabilities this squad has in the future. For NSU, losing on home grass is not an easy pill to swallow. This may prove to be the sting NSU needs to come back to the tournament title game and cement themselves into glory once again.

As it stands, Gore and company do still have work to do to regain their stamp in the conference, but the Lady Demons earned their right to even host a conference tournament and that itself speaks volumes about what’s ahead for NSU soccer. Only time will tell what happens next in DemonLand.