HUNTSVILLE, AL — For the first time since 2007, Howard University can celebrate a conference champion.
The top-seeded Lady Bison women’s soccer team won the 2014 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Tournament Championship, rallying to defeat the No. 2 seed Prairie View A&M Panthers, 2-1, on Sunday afternoon at John Hunt Soccer Complex.
Junior forward Nikanya Clark scored the eventual game winning goal in the 51st minute and was named Tournament MVP after recording eight points (three goals and two assists) in Howard’s three postseason games.
The victory gives the Lady Bison the SWAC regular season and tournament titles, a feat not accomplished since 2007 when the Howard softball team earned both Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championships.
Howard (13-9-1) found itself down early after Melissa Kalbfleisch of Prairie View (11-8-1) took a 30-yard looping shot in the 7th minute and sent it past the outstretched arms of senior goalkeeper Kyra Dickinson. The Panthers’ goal was the first score Howard allowed in the tournament.
It should be noted that Howard was down one player due to an injury reprieve for senior midfielder Nia Walcott, who reentered the game immediately after PVAMU’s goal.
Prairie View played a similar possession-oriented style to Howard and the Lady Bison found themselves chasing the Panthers around more than usual and getting fewer scoring chances than in previous games. However, as the team has done all season, Howard found a way to chip away at the opponent’s defense and take advantage of their opportunities.
One of those chances came in the 25th minute. After a Howard corner kick deflected out of the box, junior midfielder Dytria Ruddy gathered the ball, weaved through a congested box and sent a low shot past PVAMU goalie Bianca Garza to even the match at 1-1.
The game would go into halftime tied but it wouldn’t take long for the Lady Bison to strike again.
Six minutes into the second half, sophomore midfielder Sara Vaughan caused a PVAMU turnover and started the championship-winning sequence. Vaughan would pass the ball up to senior midfielder Nia Walcott, who advanced it towards the box and passed it to Clark from right outside. Clark dodged a defender, took one touch and chipped a shot by Garza and into the net.
Clark, Walcott, Ruddy, Vaughan, Dickinson and senior defender Treschelle Gibson-Serrettewere all named to the All-Tournament Team and Head Coach Brent Leiba was named SWAC Coach of the Year.
Despite Howard’s conference championship, the team can’t accept the SWAC’s automatic qualifier bid to the 2014 Women’s College Cup as a first-year member of the league.