“We’re going to ‘Bama!”
With all due respect to Orange Beach, Ala., that’s not the usual rallying cry for a team that calls the beautiful hills of Montecito home.
But it has been the only destination on the minds of the Westmont women’s soccer team for the past 12 months.
And, on Saturday afternoon, they officially booked their ticket to the tiny Gulf Coast town of 6,029 with a 2-0 win over Marymount in the second round of the NAIA National Tournament.
“This is what we’ve worked so hard for,” Westmont junior goalie Gabi Haw said. “It’s so deserved. We’re going to ‘Bama, that’s all we wanted.”
The Warriors punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 behind a pair of goals from underclassmen, with sophomore Katie Stella scoring in the 30th minute off the side of her leg, while freshman Reese Davidson put the game away in the 78th minute on a beautiful cross from Kira Nemeth.
Davidson hadn’t seen a ton of action in her first season with the Warriors, averaging just under 34 minutes in playing 15 of Westmont’s 19 games.
But Westmont head coach Jenny Jaggard has seen the Rancho Santa Margarita native work hard in practice, never letting the lack of game time get her down.
“What she has done has been out of the public eye, she works so hard every practice, she puts in the time,” Jaggard said. “It’s great to see that pay off in a game.”
Jaggard noticed a few nerves from her seventh-ranked crew at the outset, which can be attributed to a young squad seeing their first action in the national tournament.
Davidson admitted that the moment was big, but that’s why she chose Westmont over other opportunities — because the Warriors are perennial contenders that take winning seriously.
“We expect to win here, and that’s how we show up every day,” Davidson said. “Our goal was to get to Alabama, and we used that as a rallying cry every day.”
A year after not reaching the NAIA tournament, Haw said that it pushed the team to get closer off the field.
Every Friday, the team would read a book together, allowing the older players to bring the younger ones into the fold.
That translated to teamwork on the field, pushing each other to the max.
“Every sprint we took in practice, we’d tell each other it was nationals,” Haw said. “Every thing we did together, we told each other it was for nationals. And now we are headed there, and we are stronger for it.”
With Stella and Davidson playing strong minutes off the bench on Saturday, it gave Jaggard a chance to rest star Bri Johnson, who has dealt with plantar fasciitis recently. Johnson led Westmont with 13 regular-season goals.
“It’s good to be able to rest her a bit, get her ready for Alabama,” Jaggard said.
Westmont will spend the week “tweaking a few things,” according to Gabbard, before taking off for Orange Beach to see the fruits of their labor.
“We can’t wait to get there, we like our chances out there,” Haw said.