Carroll College had history on its side Sunday afternoon against Rocky Mountain College. It also didn’t hurt to have forward Meghan O’Connell and goalkeeper Erin Volz.
O’Connell scored two second-half goals and Volz helped the Saints register their seventh shutout of the season in beating the Battlin’ Bears 3-0 at Rocky’s Wendy’s Field to claim their fourth straight Frontier Conference women’s soccer championship.
Carroll, 12-3-1 overall and ranked No. 21 nationally, will now host the NAIA Unaffiliated Conference Tournament in Helena on Nov. 10-12. Rocky, 11-4, will also be one of the six teams pursuing an automatic berth to the national tournament.
In what is an unusual twist to an intense rivalry, the Saints remained unbeaten in 13 matches against Rocky in Billings after getting an early goal from Macie Netz on a rebound shot at the 9:03 mark and making it stand up.
“The fact we were able to get a clean sheet against a very good Rocky team is impressive,” Carroll coach Dave Thorvilson said.
The two schools have been playing each other in soccer since 1999, with Carroll leading the overall series 22-4-3. The Bears and Saints had split their eight previous meetings — taking turns winning on each other’s home turf.
“I thought our play increased tremendously after halftime,” Thorvilson said of Sunday’s performance. “Rocky just really had to push — in trying to score a goal and get back in the game — and I think that opened the game up for us.
“We were able to find two second-half goals just simply because we had more room to work.”
Rocky kept the heat on Volz and the Saints during most of the first half, but couldn’t light the scoreboard.
“I know we can definitely play with them,” Rocky coach Richard Duffy said. “I just thought we needed to be a little more composed in front of the goal. In the first 30 minutes we had maybe five or six quality opportunities to score.
“We at least need to make the goalkeeper work a little harder.”
The Bears had to work a lot harder after losing speedy forward Morgan Bowe, who suffered a possible broken collarbone in a collision with a Carroll defender late in the first half.
“I think the game changed when she went down,” said Duffy. “She’s been one of our best players in the last couple of weeks.”
Meantime, Carroll turned to O’Connell, a junior from Kalispell Flathead who now has 14 goals on the season, in the second half.
She fired a shot into the left corner of the net off an assist from Haley Jensen in the 52nd minute, and blasted another goal from the top of the penalty box in the 65th minute after taking a pass from Rachell Kuntz.
“She’s not afraid to shoot the ball,” Thorvilson said of the Frontier’s leading scorer. “The second half of the season she’s on stride right now. She’s been scoring a bunch of goals and causing a lot of problems for teams.”
Volz, a sophomore, made eight saves and was equally tough.
“She’s very confident,” said Thorvilson. “She makes good, clean saves. She doesn’t give up a lot of rebounds.”
Carroll also got a strong showing from backers Anna Curtin, Lynnsey James, Laura Beck and Abby Hoover in achieving the shutout.
“Our defense played very well and kind of limited Rocky’s chances to get in behind our defense,” said Thorvilson. “They had to settle for some shots that were probably a little farther out than they would have liked.”
Carroll, which beat Rocky in Helena 2-0 on Oct. 16, has been in postseason play every year since 2003 and qualified for nationals in 2006 and 2007.
The Unaffiliated Conference Tournament will include Carroll, Rocky, Minot State, Westminster College, Bellevue University of Nebraska and one other team from the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference. The tournament winner will get an automatic berth to nationals.
NOTES: Rocky midfielder Sydney Galletti suffered a possible knee injury during the first half. … Prior to the match, Rocky saluted its five seniors: Brittany Knudtzon, Erin Sutherland-Evans, Jackie Nelson, Ellen Moak and Allie Beckers. The Bears started three freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors and three seniors against the Saints.