McNeese soccer head coach Drew Fitzgerald wants his team to win every match they play.
What coach wouldn't?
But the best teacher can sometimes be adversity, and if the Cowgirls had to experience some, it might as well have come in a match that won't be of consequence to their regular season record.
On Sunday evening, McNeese played UL-Lafayette in the Cowgirls' one and only exhibition match for this preseason, playing the Ragin' Cajuns to a 2-2 draw. By contrast, UL-Lafayette already had one exhibition match under its belt, having lost to Southeastern Louisiana 2-0 two nights before on Aug. 16.
The two teams had two clearly different objectives in the match. While the Cajuns mostly kept the same players in for the entire 90 minutes, only making one substitution, the Cowgirls played every outfield player that dressed out.
"We were going to get everybody in no matter what," Fitzgerald said. "The score could have been 5-0 us or 5-0 them, everybody was going to play."
The purpose of playing everybody was to see how different players fit in different positions and how players respond to a game situation that is a lot different than any type of practice or intrasquad scrimmage situation.
For the first 20 minutes of the match, it seemed like McNeese would comfortably take the game to the Cajuns. The Cowgirls maintained most of the possession and whenever they did lose the ball, were able to immediately pressure the Cajuns into a turnover.
Despite the good start, McNeese couldn't put the ball in the back of the net, and the Cajuns made them pay for that when Karleen Bedre took a Cowgirls turnover, ran down the right wing, cut back in between two McNeese defenders and slotted the goal home past Cowgirl goalkeeper Gabrielle Christy to give the Cajuns a 1-0 lead.
McNeese didn't let the deficit get them too down, however, as the Cowgirls responded a few minutes later thanks to a goal from junior forward Maddie Neidig. The Mountain View, California-native controlled a cross in the box, then took a rebound off her initial shot attempt which was blocked, and put her right-footed shot attempt past Ragin Cajun goalkeeper Mackenzie Lee at the far post.
"It feels pretty awesome," Neidig said after the game. "I think with them getting the goal first, it kind of set us back a second, so we had to refocus. Me putting that goal away, especially coming off the bench, it gave me a lot more confidence. And I think everyone else came behind me and was like, we got this."
The teams remained tied going into halftime, but McNeese took its first lead of the match at 2-1 when sophomore forward Isabel Kembel tapped home a loose ball just outside of the goal.
The match seemed like it would end in the Cowgirls' favor, but with less than 20 minutes remaining, Bedre launched a deep shot from outside of the box and Christy couldn't control the ball as she went to catch it. The ball rippled the back of the net and the match was tied at two.
Although McNeese out-shot UL-Lafayette 12-7 (6-4 shots on target), the Cajuns had 58 percent of the possession compared to McNeese's 42 percent. Fitzgerald believes that, although the match didn't go quite how he wanted it to, this was a much better learning experience going into the regular season than if they played a lopsided match.
"If we play somebody we beat 9-0, you don't learn anything," Fitzgerald said. "If you get beat 9-0, you probably don't learn much. So a game that's a tie that has some back and forth to it, that exposes you in some ways, that is (beneficial)."
McNeese will open up its season on Friday when they host in-state rival Southern at 7 p.m. Two days later on Aug. 25, the Cowgirls will host Tulsa at 1 p.m.