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Lady Bobcats celebrate national championship

The Lady Bobcats struck gold at the National Championship soccer tournament in Tucson, AZ, claiming the number one spot in a 3-0 victory over Johnson County in the final.

As an at-large bid to the tournament, the Bobcats had it all to prove when arriving in Arizona. With convincing wins in the group stages, Schoolcraft 3-1 and Northeast 2-0, the Bobcats found themselves in the semi-finals against their state rival Holmes. Having previously lost in conference play 3-2, Jones knew that this would be a tightly-contested game between the two sides.

“I had lots of emotions whirring through me,” said team captain Lauren Carothers. “I was so emotional before we left the hotel I cried for a second because it really settled in with me that if we beat Holmes, our next game will be for a national championship title, and that’s all I’ve ever dreamed of.”

After an initial hard-fought 30 minutes, Celine Ottah broke the deadlock, scoring to put Jones up 1-0. Although the final was now in their sights, the game was unfinished. The team still had work to do in the second half to ensure their place in the final. The Jones offense did not let up and prevailed after the full 90 minutes with an emphatic 4-0 win against their rivals. Jones had made a statement in the semi-final and now was the team to beat.

“Holmes was our only loss during the season, which fuelled us even more. The girls knew the plan and believed in it. They executed it better than we could ever have imagined,” said Assistant Coach Tori Brook. “Beating Holmes was brilliant, but the job wasn’t done. We had bigger plans.”

Jones was writing history, making their first national final as they were set to face seventh-seeded Johnson County. They were only 90 minutes away from their first-ever National Championship win. All that stood in their way were the opposing 11 players who were also fighting for the same outcome. It wasn’t a game to be taken lightly with the Championship at stake.

The Bobcats could not have asked for a better start. Within four minutes of play, Gemma Whitchurch netted a goal for Jones to place them up 1-0 and a step closer to the Championship. As Carothers and the teams’ dreams were beginning to turn into a reality, they ensured to remain focused on the task and not get too caught up in the occasion. Discipline paid off for the Bobcats as after 20 minutes of play, Ottah slotted one home to double their lead. Jones went into halftime with a 2-0 advantage against the Cavaliers.

However, Jones was not content with just the two-goal lead. With the sound of the whistle to restart play, the Bobcats surged forward at every opportunity. The Cavaliers were under constant pressure, and by the time 64 minutes had been played, Hilary Jaen rose the highest from an Abby Sheriff corner to header Jones’s third goal.

Jones’s third and final goal of the game secured their win, and they were crowned DII Women’s Soccer National Champions. Throughout the tournament, the Bobcats scored a total of 12 goals and only conceded a singular goal over a series of four games. The Lady Bobcats had written themselves a page in not only the Jones history books but also Mississippi’s. They had become the first female MACCC team to win the National Championships as well as bringing their first national title back to Ellisville.

“I am so incredibly proud of what this current group have accomplished, and they will forever have a special place in my heart,” said Head Coach Dolores Deasley. “This one was for every woman that has put on a Jones jersey and represented our program and college with class. It has taken everyone to build this program into a force to be reckoned with.”

Not only did Jones come away with the National Championship, but a plethora of players were also rewarded for their efforts throughout the tournament. Jona Hennings along with Sheriff, Jaen and Whitchurch were all named in the NJCAA All-Tournament Team, and Ottah was recognized as the Most Valuable Player during the tournament. Hennings picked up another accolade as the Most Valuable Defensive Player, having conceded no goals during her time between the sticks. Jones demonstrated both their defensive and offensive prowess as Jaen was awarded the Most Valuable Offensive Player. Achievements and awards were not only shared among the players. Deasley too picked up an award being named Coach of the Tournament.

The number one-seeded Jones team now heads into the Spring season. They will use this time to continue to improve themselves in order to see the National Championship tournament again next fall.

by Boo Mills

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