Briar Cliff women’s soccer heads for NAIA Tournament | Soccer

Briar Cliff women’s soccer heads for NAIA Tournament | Soccer

SIOUX CITY — The Briar Cliff University women’s soccer team wanted to prove to the outside world that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke.

It’s safe to say the Chargers accomplished that goal.

The Chargers won their first ever Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship with a 1-0 win at Jamestown on Friday, and that win automatically clinched a spot in the NAIA women’s soccer tournament.

The Chargers (15-2-1) were on their way down to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and will play Oklahoma Wesleyan at 5 p.m. Thursday.

“I think we can say that we’re a selfless team, and we preached that toward the end of the season,” BCU coach Clark Charlestin said. “I think it manifested itself throughout the season. It’s all worked out and they all put the team first.”

The Chargers went 12-3-2 during the 2020-21 season, which was split up into two parts because of COVID-19.

BCU made it to the national tournament last year after securing the GPAC regular-season title, then losing in the semis to the Jimmies.

Then, Lindsey Wilson knocked out the Chargers in the first round of nationals.

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This year, the Chargers were heading into a more normal situation.

They had Charlestin for a while, as he took over the Chargers after Paul Cox left for Murray State during the spring season.

Most of the players from last year’s 12-win team also came back, including leading scorer Flor Suarez.

Suarez and the rest of the Chargers wanted to see how well they could fare, given things a little bit regular.

After starting the season 1-1, BCU reeled off 11 straight wins, including a win against Morningside.

The Midland Warriors ended the Chargers’ winning streak with a 2-0 win on Oct. 27, then the Chargers tied with Jamestown 2-2 three days later to end the regular season.

“It was important for us to stick together,” Suarez said. “We wanted to prove to ourselves that we wanted to be successful. It did feel a little more normal.”

Suarez’s season, however, was different in terms of her role.

Suarez led the Chargers in 2020-21 with 15 goals, and she was the go-to striker. She was the one who most times hit the clutch goals.

She reached All-American status, but Charlestin decided to move Suarez to the center part of the midfield group, using her athleticism right at the middle of the field.

Suarez had to be more of a passer, finding strikers like Taylor Alkire and Hannah Shuttleworth.

When Charlestin approached Suarez about the change on the pitch, the Chargers graduate student from Hawthorne, Calif, didn’t bat an eye.

She embraced the challenge.

Suarez said it took her about a month after being handed the assignment to get used to the new position.

She pointed out that she had to be in better shape, knowing that her new role forced her to move about more often.

She also had to learn about playing with teammates on her line, and building a good chemistry with them.

“At first, it was difficult,” Suarez said. “I knew that’s what Coach Clark needed from me. Thankfully, it helped us as the season went on. I love playing in the midfield now. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Chargers goalkeeper Darrien Sclafani posted a shutout Friday night against the Jimmies, and on Tuesday, the BCU junior from Las Vegas was named the school’s Athlete of the Week.

On the season, Sclafani is 5-0 with 45 saves and 18 goals allowed.

Sclafani allowed two total goals in regulation during the three wins in the GPAC Tournament.

“Darrien has been great for us, and (Friday) was one of those games where we stressed in our team meeting, if she denies shots, we win the game,” Charlestin said. “I think Friday was another big performance. She showed maturity in her game in terms of controlling the game.”

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