Texas Tech's NCAA First Round match Saturday is a fitting home finale for the Red Raiders.
November 10, 2012
by Britton Drown
Texas Tech Athletics Communications
It took just an instant, but with a single bright flash the field beneath the towering lights of the John Walker Soccer Complex faded somewhere deep within the late October sky.
Quiet now, with the final stragglers of a five-camera television crew well beyond the large iron entrance gate, the stadium rested in the heart of a early winter cold front that blasted through hours ago.
The scene below now dipping into the late hours of the night was a stark contrast to the events of just moments earlier.
Though perhaps most significant of that chilly yet jubilant evening was the overwhelming sense this Friday night victory may not have been the final match held on their home field. Texas Tech had never advanced to the NCAA Championships - yet with 14 wins covering its resume those close to the program felt this certainly would be the year the Red Raiders finally leaped over that longstanding barrier and into the NCAA Tournament.
There, under the warm and powerful glow of those lights, Janine Beckie
controlled the crowd of over 1,200 at her will. Once on a short punch into the Oklahoma State goal, and later in the second half - a dramatic and nearly unstoppable strike that symbolized Texas Tech's school record 14th victory of the season.
"It was a relief," Texas Tech head coach Tom Stone
said Thursday. "There was a real sense of relief, and I was just so proud of our team that night."
On Monday, just days after Texas Tech went on to win its first-ever postseason match at the Big 12 Championships, that inkling became a reality. Inside a team watching party at the John Walker Soccer Complex, Tech learned its historic and unprecedented 2012 season indeed earned the Red Raiders their first-ever bid to the NCAA Championships.
"It's just really special," senior forward Dawn Ward
said moments after the announcement. "For it to finally come, it just leaves me breathless."
The announcement seemed all but perfectly fitting too as the Red Raiders would play their first-ever NCAA postseason match inside the complex that itself symbolizes the vast growth of the program under the guidance of Stone and his staff. Stone, now in his sixth year, arrived in Lubbock prior to the 2007 season alongside now associate head coach Aaron Gordon
and assistant Ashley Gordon
. Once on the South Plains, the staff inherited a program that had won just two conference games in the previous three years.
But together they constructed a true program, and a new culture of women's soccer at Texas Tech.
"There is so much more than just our team that has gone into where we are now in the NCAA Tournament." Stone said. "Everybody from the Athletic Department to the Board of Regents to John Walker to the soccer community - there has been this massive push to get us where we needed to go."
They got there.
Entering Saturday's NCAA Championships first round match, Stone will be looking for his 60th victory at Texas Tech. All the while, the John Walker Soccer Complex has grown in stride. It's been a facility that has not only boosted the program's identity - but has proven to be a true home field advantage to the surging Red Raider soccer team.
"It's become one of my favorite feelings at Texas Tech," Ward said "Walking up to the gate during game day is amazing. It's really special. We don't take what we've been given for granted."
It's an atmosphere that has gained national attention as well. In July, the Red Raiders learned they would be one of just eight women's soccer programs nationally to host the NSCAA College Game of the Week on FOX Soccer, and defeated Oklahoma State 2-0 during it to close out the regular season.
Texas Tech finished the 2012 regular season with a dominant 8-1 record in games played at the John Walker Soccer Complex. It's a trend the Red Raiders, and opponents, have become used to in recent years. Since its completion prior to the 2009 season, the pristine 1,500-seat stadium has played host 37 home games, 26 of which have been Texas Tech victories - a .703 winning percentage.
"There's been a different drive that we've had this year," Ward said. "It's been a consistent drive throughout our entire season and I think that has been a huge factor. We all want it, and we've all been on the same page."
Yes, the John Walker Soccer Complex has grown into one of the toughest and most intimidating facilities in the nation - and the Red Raiders' success has paralleled alongside.With a third place finish in the Big 12 this year, Texas Tech has now improved in the final conference standings in four consecutive seasons. The Red Raiders finished 9th in 2009, 7th in 2010 and 4th in 2011 with at least five home wins in each season.
That inherit home field advantage has been built upon a foundation that carries into the Texas Tech and Lubbock community. With the wins, has come an atmosphere for women's soccer that few schools in the country can rival.
"For one it's an intimate setting," Stone said. "There's just a vibe between the players and the fans. Our fans just love to see our players be competitive and fight to the end. We have a 'never-say-die' mentality, and when you put all of that together under one roof - it makes for a very exciting place to see a college soccer game."
The Red Raiders averaged over 1,300 fans during the 2011 season, which ranked No. 13 nationally, and hosted a streak of eight consecutive Friday night matches with over 1,000.
Now, the John Walker Soccer Complex will host its first-ever NCAA Tournament game with the Red Raiders welcoming North Texas Saturday at 8 p.m - a monumental feat in the history of the Texas Tech soccer program.
"It's just so exciting that every time I think about it I get emotional," Ward said. "Its going to be exciting and it's going to be fun. With our crowd and with our support it's going to be such a great atmosphere."
Saturday night, Ward will play in her final match at the John Walker Soccer Complex and as her head coach described it - the Red Raiders' NCAA postseason match is a gift to the community that has invested so much back into the program.
"To be able to give back to the community an NCAA game in our back yard," Stone said. "I think it's really awesome that we are able to give that back to everyone that has been so supportive of us. They get to enjoy the NCAA Championships. It's fitting - and it's a great reward."