Perfect season ends in heartbreak for UWF women’s soccer
by Tyler Wood,
Twenty. That’s the number of wins the West Florida women’s soccer team had in the same number of games. No losses, no draws, only wins.
Sixty-two. That’s the number of goals the Argos scored in those 20 games, outscoring opponents by 54.
1-0. That was the final score of Sunday’s NCAA South Region tournament match against Lee University. Only this time, it was somehow the opponents who scored the lone goal to end the Argos’ season with one swift kick that found the back left corner of the net, just out of reach of 5-foot-10 goalkeeper Esthefanny Barreras, whose leap just wasn’t enough to keep the season alive.
After 90 minutes of score-free soccer, the Flames found a crease in the West Florida defense and executed it perfectly in the third minute of sudden death overtime.
Time stood still as Mia Hollingsworth’s right foot struck the ball on a perfect trajectory towards the net. Then, the season was over. Shock, denial and grief had all set in at once. Lee rushed the field to celebrate the upset. The Argos stood motionless, hands on their heads in disbelief. It took a few minutes for reality to set in, and then the tears.
“That’s a pain that won’t go away for a lot of these youngsters,” Coach Joe Bartlinski said. “It’s gonna be painful.”
Then, deeper thoughts set in. Eight Argos had their playing days end in one moment. But the bonds between the players and coaches had not ended. Nor had the memories of four tremendously successful seasons.
“That’s the brutal part, it’s just the pain that these seniors are having to go through,” Bartlinski said. “They did everything we asked, so compliments to them to go this far this year.”
Bartlinski handled the loss as well as anyone could have under the circumstances. For a coach whose perfect season had just been brought to a grinding halt, he was in very good spirits. His message to the team was simple in theory, but difficult for many.
“Keep your heads high,” Bartlinski said. “What a tremendous year. For them to go this far before picking up the first loss was amazing.”
For a team with 10 All-Gulf South Conference honors, including Bartlinski’s Coach of the Year award, Barreras’ Player of the Year award and eight all-conference selections, expectations were lofty. But with great expectations can come great disappointment, and now the Argos will have to wait until next year to form an all-new set of goals.
Bartlinski-led UWF teams have never finished worse than 12-6 in his 18 seasons at the university, so it’s easy to imagine that next year’s squad will be ready to seize the next opportunity to play for championships.
20-1. That’s the official final record for the 2018 UWF women’s soccer team, one of the university’s best seasons in what has been a dominant program for two decades.
Elite. That’s the one-word answer for “how was UWF’s season?” A GSC title, .952 winning percentage and perfect regular season make the answer a no-brainer.
Hope. That’s what the Argos have for next season, despite losing eight of their best players to graduation. Returning the GSC’s best goalkeeper and a host of talented underclassmen, there is hope that the Argos can return to dominance and win more championships for the University of West Florida in 2019.
Learn. That’s what coach Bartlinski said the team needs to do to bring home a championship next year.
“Can our underclassmen learn from this experience?” Bartlinski said. “We got to hope so.”