A season filled with adversity for the Charlotte women's soccer team ended with a deep conference tournament. Great play from the team allowed for the 49ers to get to the Conference USA tournament final, where they lost to Rice, 0-2.
"We peaked at the right time, and that was a huge cause for the run," said Head Coach John Cullen. "The team was focused, and it allowed us to finish games strongly in the tournament."
The season didn't start the way that the team had hoped, with multiple cancellations and losses early on. Charlotte had a 1-3 record early but didn't get discouraged and continued to fight in every game. When the conference tournament came along, the team had a chip on their shoulders and looked to make their presence known.
"We were coming off of a loss in the final regular-season game, and we came into the tournament with a chip on our shoulders," said senior goalkeeper Abby Stapleton. "The adversity we faced allowed us to reflect and focus on our end goal."
Heading into the conference tournament, the 49ers were underdogs but looked to make a statement. Charlotte, a very young team, looked to their veterans to lead and did just that.
"The seniors didn't pump up the emotion too much and stayed down to earth," said Cullen. "The veterans helped wherever they could, and that was the key."
The first matchup for the Niners in the conference tournament would be against the number two seed in the west division, North Texas. It was a stalemate that saw both teams continuously going back and forth. The 49ers were able to gain control in the 40th minute with the game's only goal, which propelled the team to the semifinals.
The second matchup would be against the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, who had bested the team in the final game of the regular season. Play of both Abby Stapleton and Piper Biziorek would be enough to defeat the number one seed in the east division. Biziorek scored her second goal of the season, which would be enough to put the team in the finals.
"It felt great to get there as a whole team rather than just on individual work," said Biziorek. "I was happy to have the opportunity to continue to play with my team."
The final would see the team meet the nationally ranked Rice Owls and pull off another upset. The outcome wasn't what the team wanted, as they would lose by 0-2. The team might have come up short, but it will be a run that will never be forgotten.
"It was great to see the players be able to come together and compete at a high level," said Cullen. "We were appreciative to be in that situation."
An up and down season was capped off with an improbable run that will never be forgotten. The team is ready to get back on the field and compete once again.
Senior Abby Stapleton is forever grateful for the chance to play at Charlotte. Many have credited her with being the reason for the team's deep run with her great defensive play. The future for Stapleton is undecided, but if she did play her final game of her collegiate career on Saturday, she will be remembered as one of the greatest goalies in team history.
"It definitely went through my mind on Saturday that this could have been my final game," said Stapleton. "Nothing is concrete, but I have enjoyed my time at Charlotte."
With young players like Biziorek on the team, the 49ers will be able to compete for multiple years. Her first season is in the books, but she learned a lot about herself as a player and a person.
"The biggest thing that I will take away from this season is that I want to continue to improve my game," said Biziorek. "I have learned not to be scared to fail but rather that I can learn from it."
The team poured their hearts out on the field all season long, which resulted in getting to play on one of the biggest stages. The future is bright for the young program, and Coach Cullen has high expectations for the team in the coming years. The team wants to make a run similar to this year's in the near future.
"Our expectation for every year is that we want to be able to compete for various titles," said Cullen. "We want to make sure that the hunger is still there and that the players are ready to get back out there."