Pfeiffer women’s soccer wins school’s first USA South title

Published 11:01 pm Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Since the 2016-17 seasons, the athletic teams of Pfeiffer University have competed in the Div. III USA South Conference but have not been able to compete in the conference’s or NCAA postseason.

In all those seasons, the Falcons have been eligible to win a regular-season title but had not done so until Wednesday night.

The women’s soccer team, under the direction of first-year head coach Sean Esterhuizen, secured the USA South regular-season title with a 1-0 home win over Greensboro.

Esterhuizen said in his long coaching history, which includes 18 years in college including the Div. II level, he has never had a team more dedicated to a cause then the Falcons.

“They wanted to win the USA South from day one. Every practice, they were just like a group of professionals coming to work every day,” Esterhuizen said.

The coach said he had nothing to do with winning the title, crediting the team for being a group who just wanted to win.

Pfeiffer’s success in 2019 on the pitch has centered a lot on the team’s defense. In 15 matches this season, the Falcons have allowed less then one goal per game (0.93 goals-against average) with eight shutouts.

Esterhuizen credited the low average in part to senior goalie Kaley Hyatt whom he called exceptional. In 13 games, Hyatt has a 0.77 GAA with 46 saves and nine goals allowed.

The coach said a rotation of six defenders has played very composed all season long as well which has helped the team defensively.

Defense has not been a particular focus, Esterhuizen said, but keeping the same shape of formation on the field with each player learning roles.

“That has contributed to help us be a strong team on defense but I think we possess the ball very well with a lot of composure,” Esterhuizen said.

On the offensive side, the Falcons average 2.67 goals per game, led by a group of talented strikers which includes Mazkenzie Pruitt (nine goals, six assists), Cayci Eaton (eight goals, 2 assists) Dayanna Riera (four goals) and Kelsi Esquivel (four goals, five assists).

They’ve been our goal scorers and playmakers all season long. They’ve been phenomenal,” Esterhuizen said.

“They’ve just dominated every team we’ve played. Their possession and composure is like watching a cat play with a mouse.”

Pfeiffer played in much the same fashion Wednesday night in a 1-0 win over the Pride (, according to the head coach. Meredith Manson scored the lone goal of the game for the Falcons, her fifth of the season, assisted by Morgan Cecil, in the 22nd minute.

Esterhuizen said Greensboro’s attack was strong in the game, generating 12 shots on goal with Hyatt making four saves.

“I have to take off my hat. They looked so dangerous so often on the attack. I was nervous,” Esterhuizen said.

With Pfeiffer in its final season of transition into Div. III play, the women’s soccer coach said this season’s title is a milestone which will continue to help the program in terms of recruiting for next season.

“Our goal this year was to position ourselves that we could go deep in the playoffs next year. We have a young team of sophomores and juniors. (The title) will boost and give us the confidence to look forward and say that we can do better than this,” Esterhuizen said.

While the experience of winning the regular-season title was not without its setbacks, the coach added, including an 2-1 loss to N.C. Wesleyan last Saturday which ended a six-game win streak.

Coming into the game Wednesday, Esterhuizen said coming into the game, he was not sure how his team would react after the loss.

“You think you’re good then you get knocked off your perch so I was a little worried on how (the team) would react. I thought we had to be on our toes and play our best game to take this title. But they stepped up and I’m so proud of them,” Esterhuizen said.

The Falcons have one conference game left this season, hosting Johnson and Wales on Wednesday. Pfeiffer then wraps up the regular season celebrating Senior Day on Nov. 2.

Pfeiffer will then wait to see if it receives a bid into the ECAC tournament, an event for schools which are not eligible to compete in the NCAA postseason.

Esterhuizen said the Falcons’ team can be measured with other successful teams in the school’s history.

“This team always had a game plan. I feel they do embody excellence…it’s a team we can be proud of. I feel privileged. I feel like I won the lottery by getting this job. I’m so excited for what’s still to come.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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