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RMU Sentry Media

The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

“We Have a Must Win Attitude”: Women’s Soccer Prepares for Historic Playoff Matchup

Photo Credit: Samantha Dutch

The Colonials wrapped up their regular season on Tuesday with a thrilling 2-1 win over Youngstown. This win established the team as the fourth seed in the Horizon League, earning them a spot in playoff action, a new feat for RMU.

After wrapping up practice Friday afternoon at the AHN Montour Junction Sports Complex, head coach Chris Shaw and players spoke with Colonial Sports Network about their upcoming Horizon League Tournament matchup against Wright State and their climb.

“I like to think that this team has, throughout the season, gotten mentality tougher.” Coach Chris Shaw said when asked about the mentality of the team. “I think we saw that against Youngstown, it was kind of a refuse-to-lose mentality.”

Graduate defender Kristi Kania is one of the team’s players who has been around for three years. She has seen the growth of the team and the difference in going from the NEC to the HL.

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“Every game is gritty in the Horizon League, so I think it’s about [that] mentality at the end of the day,” Kania said. “I think that’s been our biggest obstacle, is really getting behind that mentality and grittiness that comes with every game and every team.”

That was an obstacle RMU was able to overcome. Their win saw the Colonials clinch entry to the tournament for the first time since they joined the Horizon League in 2020 and the first time since 2015, they’ll be playing in the postseason.

“Every year we’ve gotten better, and this year it’s everything we’ve ever worked for,” senior forward Haleigh Finale said. “I’ve been here since [coach] Chris has been here, and since I’ve been here, this has always been the goal. It’s really awesome to see it finally happening.”

Haleigh Finale has been a key asset for the team since her freshman year at the program in 2021. Photo credit: Samantha Dutch

The South Park Native has contributed with three goals and five assists this year, starting 17 of the 18 total games. For all of her three years, she has been a key asset to the program.

Also a key player, sophomore and newly tabbed All-Horizon League Second Teamer Melina Kearns scored a record-breaking four goals against Sunday’s opponent earlier this season. The midfielder made the HL All-Freshmen team last season, which earned her her starting spot this year. She repaid Shaw’s faith with seven goals, three assists, and 17 points.

“I’m hoping we come out with the same energy, everyone,” Kearns said. “Maybe get five this time,” she joked.

On the other side of the pitch, Wright State is on a bit of a cold run. They have two wins in their last eight matchups and have gone the last three without a win. Their hot streak at the beginning of the season helped earn them the No. 5 seed, one behind RMU. The last time the two sides met, RMU walked away with the win, 4-2.

Wright State has two ladies who are top of their scoring lists. Senior midfielder Lauren Borchert and graduate forward Kaylin Helinski have three goals and one assist. They both started every game they’ve been available for, so it should be no surprise to see them on the team sheet on Sunday.

An interesting name to look out for on the Colonials is if the newly dubbed All-Freshmen Shauna Gamble makes a start. Gamble has started four of the 15 games she’s played in her debut season, including most recently at Youngstown. Gamble has three assists on the season.

“We’ve brought in really good soccer players.” Coach Shaw said.

There’s indeed been a large evolution over the course of the last few years, especially within the latest year for the program.

“I think that {change] is because of some of the players we’ve brought in,” Shaw said when asked about what’s changed. “We’ve brought in players that are coming from top-level clubs across the nation, that are competing on a daily basis.”

Kaoru Hayashi attributes Shaw and the coaching staff to returning her on a successful path.

“At the start of the season we had so many meetings, they showed us motivational videos and how we build up the team.”

After earning postseason awards her first two years with the team, Hayashi missed out on her senior year due to injury. This year, her consistent play and three goals with six assists saw her rewarded with not only the sportsmanship award but also a spot on the HL All-Confrence 1st team.

“We’re all confident, no matter what, and we’re just ready to win,” Hayashi said.

“At this point, anyone can win the game,” Coach Shaw said of the matchup. “Both teams are talented, good soccer-playing teams. So for me it comes down to, especially in a do or die situation, when you know if you lose you’re going home, mentality is a huge part of it.”

In the event of a loss, the Colonials are sent back to the drawing board for another offseason. Coach Shaw and his staff are certainly looking to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“What we’ve tried to instill in them is to make winning the habit we’re continuously striving for,” Shaw said.

You can watch RMU face Wright State in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Conference Tournament on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. The game will take place at the AHN Montour Junction Sports Complex or streaming on ESPN+.

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