The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

Historical Season in Review: Robert Morris Women’s Soccer

Samantha Dutch
The Colonials won in the first round in the Horizon League Tournament against Wright State

This week, the Robert Morris women’s soccer season concluded its most successful season in years. The team made the Horizon League Tournament for the first time and qualified for its second conference tournament ever.

The women’s soccer team came into the season with something to prove. With many returners and thirteen new players, fourth-year head coach Chris Shaw assembled a squad that could hopefully make a run in the Horizon League. The Colonials were on the back of a 7-7-5 overall record last year but a dismal 1-7-2 record in conference.

Key returners were Kaoru Hayashi and Kristi Kania, two graduates who played midfield and defense. Haleigh Finale, the Colonials’ top goal scorer the year prior, was back with newly transferred Lidia Nduka from James Madison and other young stars Paloma Swankler, Renae Mohrbacher, and Malia Kearns. Robert Morris also picked up a new keeper, Brenna Murray.

Preseason & Pre-Conference Play

To put it simply, the Colonials came out hot. The squad went the entire preseason unbeaten. The women won six of the eight games they played, scoring 19 goals and conceding five.

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This was the first taste of what could be considered an unprecedented success for the Colonials. They tied the record for the longest win streak in program history and started the season off 5-0 for the first time.

Lidia Nduka took over the pitch every time she was on it. The German international scored seven goals and gathered one assist in non-conference play. Mohrbacher and Finale also did nicely collecting four goal contributions a piece.

Some notable wins came against SFU, Akron, VMI, and Mount St. Mary’s, all of which were three-goal margin victories. Another sign of change came with the Colonial’s comeback draw against St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies scored two first-half goals, a noticeable trend RMU would continue throughout the year. Mohrbacher’s clutch brace saw them escape with a draw despite going down early.

Conference Play

RMU’s hot streak was snuffed out on the opening day of Horizon League action, as the team lost 2-0 to Purdue Fort Wayne. Despite that loss, the Colonials kept up the fight and were able to rebound in the next game, winning big 5-1 against Green Bay.

Malia Kearns scored a brace and was joined by Hayashi, Finale, and Mohrbacher on the scoresheet. This statement by the Colonials showed they would not be the Robert Morris of previous seasons. They were here to win.

The Colonials would lose the following game 3-0 to eventual champions Milwaukee but showed resilience, going unbeaten the next four games. Wins against Wright State and Cleveland State, paired with a tie to Oakland, saw the Colonials sit at third in the Horizon League standings.

The key players continued to shine at the opening of the season. Mohrbacher, Nduka, and Finale furthered their support up top, and Hayashi, Taylor Day, freshman Shauna Gamble, and more worked in and out of the lineup, making the most of their minutes nonetheless.

Malia Kearns was named to the Horizon League Second Team in 2023 (Samantha Dutch)

But sophomore midfielder Malia Kearns started to become the real standout, scoring a program-record four goals in a single match in the Colonials’ 4-2 win against Wright State. She also contributed two goals against Green Bay a few games before. Kearns won the Horizon League’s Offensive Player of the Week award, the second Colonial after Lidia Nduka.

The Colonials’ aforementioned slow start then slowed their season down, putting them at risk of placing low in Horizon League seedings or even missing the tournament altogether. Their position dropped after back-to-back losses to Northern Kentucky and IUPUI, both games with a 1-0 result in favor of their opponents, and the goals were scored in the first half.

They would need a positive result away at Youngstown to clinch a postseason berth. By no means was the game easy. A scrappy goal by Kristi Kania in the first half covered up the sloppy play by the Colonials. They added a second with fifteen minutes remaining in the second half, thanks to a resurgent Paloma Swankler, before the Penguins cut the lead in half, making the game interesting. RMU saw it out, leaving Youngstown with a 2-1 victory and the fourth seed in the Horizon League Tournament.


The women’s soccer team found themselves in the Horizon League tournament for the first time in their history. It was also the first time they’d qualify for the postseason in eight years, with 2015 being the year they were NEC runners-up.

They matched up against Wright State, the no. 5 seed. Ironically, it would be another historical matchup. With Kearns’s four goals the last time the two sides met, history was already made, and some left to be written. The Colonials went the pitch victors, winning 4-1. Freshman Shauna Gamble contributed heavily, as did Hayashi.

The midfield pair connected on the opening goal of a corner, then found each other again, except this time Gamble would flick it to Haleigh Finale, who buried her shot. Paloma Swankler continued her late-season surge, scoring on a break to make it 3-1. Hayashi wrapped things up, getting a well-deserved goal credit by putting a low-driven free kick off a defender and into the net.

As coach Shaw mentioned after the game, it was “a lot of firsts” for his team. It was a first playoff win in their first game. Records were either equaled or set for the most wins in a season with the most goals.

Their reward for the historical win? A trip to Milwaukee to face up against the top seed. Robert Morris had previously lost to the team big, and the result wouldn’t change. After keeping it close in the first half, going into the break 1-0 down, the Colonials’ historic, impressive run would end in the semi-finals against Milwaukee, losing 5-0.

What’s Next?

The only players officially leaving the Colonials this offseason will be Kaoru Hayashi, Lidia Nduka, Kristi Kania, and Brenna Murray. That means RMU will have a new shot-stopper between the sticks when they next enter the pitch. Junior Morgan Brustman will be the most senior player on the team but faces competition from freshmen Hannah Robertson and Detyaa Satyal.

Hayashi and Kania were critical pieces in the last couple of seasons, and they will leave open spots in the starting lineup. Freshmen Shauna Gamble and Julia Becerra will look to fill in the midfield, while Paloma Swankler, Renae Mohrbacher, Haleigh Finale, and Malia Kearns will be back.

The Colonials will also have help from newly committed Ava Weleski, a senior from Plum who captained her team and scored 23 goals with 12 assists. The incoming freshman could provide valuable depth in the future with Finale in her last year.

Either way, all four graduates leaving will be valuable pieces that will leave holes in the starting lineup, but Chris Shaw, who will be entering his fifth season as head coach, will have plenty of depth and youth in the ranks to build on an overall fantastic year.


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