By Dave Kavanaugh
Las Vegas Optic
It has been a week of firsts for the New Mexico Highlands University women’s soccer program.
• First Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year nod ... to junior Julissa Rodriguez, who was tied for the league lead in scoring as of Wednesday night with 14 goals.
• First RMAC Coach of the Year honors ... for Justin Wagar, who’s in his second season at the helm.
• First RMAC postseason victory in program history. That came Wednesday night, as the Cowgirls ran past Colorado-Colorado Springs 4-1 in another first, the first time Highlands has hosted an RMAC postseason soccer match.
The Cowgirls have made the tourney before. In 2007, sports information guru Gavino Archuleta points out, the team lost to Colorado Mines 3-0 in a first-round match.
“We are so proud of the girls after tonight’s game, they did everything we asked them to and more,” Wagar said in a news release after Wednesday’s victory. “This was the first collegiate playoff for most of the girls. Their confidence is growing and it is just fun to watch them play and come together as a team. They continue to work hard and it is paying off for them.”
Highlands (12-5-2) plays second-seeded Regis at noon Friday in the first of two RMAC semifinals.
Following NMHU-Regis, tournament host and No. 1 seed Fort Lewis tangles with fourth-seeded Colorado School of Mines. The Orediggers advanced by edging Metro State 2-1 in OT.
On Wednesday, both defenses were tested early with both Cowgirls and Mountain Lions turning away frenetic drives into the scoring zones. At intermission, it was all zeroes on the scoreboard.
Tierra Saban broke the drought just 27 seconds into the second half, scoring from 20 yards away.
The Cowgirls kept the pressure on UCCS, and in the 55th minute, Britny Cottrell scored from point-blank range off assists from Julissa Rodriguez and Krista Mashak. Rodriguez had three assists Wednesday.
The Mountain Lions, who’d tested Amanda Rose Johnson (seven saves Wednesday) with several strong attacks, made it 2-1 on a pretty header by Kristin Preble with 31:23 left.
Rodriguez, showing crisp ballhandling, gained some breathing room for NMHU with an unassisted goal with 19:32 to go.
Heidi Nakaoka, a Los Alamos native, scored her first goal of the year on a feed from Rodriguez and Amando Piho to put the Cowgirls ahead 4-1 in the 87th minute.
Rodriguez and Wagar joined Mashak, Cianna Chun-Ming and Susannah Hertz on the All-RMAC team.