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NCAA Oct 24, 2023

Texas Tech captures first Big 12 regular season championship in program history

By Andrew Stern (Texas Tech University)

AMES, Iowa – All season long the moments kept building.

First came the program’s best overall start.

Then the best Big 12 start.

Next in line? The first top-25 ranking in two-plus seasons.

Shortly after came the program’s first top-10 ranking in nearly a decade.

Just four days ago, a No. 5 overall ranking by the 2023 NCAA Tournament selection committee, a ranking that exceeds the highest ranking accrued in program history.

Finally on Monday night, the 2023 Texas Tech women’s soccer program claimed its “forever first” as the team used a 40th minute goal from junior Ashleigh Williams to record the first Big 12 Regular Season title in program history.

The goal was ironic, fitting, beautiful and downright emblematic of the 2023 Red Raider squad.

First came the irony, as senior Elise Anderson, who was sprung into the starting lineup in place of an injured Macy Blackburn provided the final pass.

Fitting in the sense that it combined to feature Tech’s top-two scores, a duo that with tonight’s goal has now combined for 24 goals and are the first tandem 10-goal scorers in program history.

Then came the emblematic part, a world class finish, by a world class player, after receiving not one, but two perfect passes from a pair of seniors.

After being locked in a frustrating battle with Iowa State that nearly saw the match got to the half scoreless, it was one last moment of brilliance from two of Tech’s stars that cemented the 2023 Texas Tech Red Raider teams’ legacy.

Senior Alex Kerr secured a throw in and sent a perfect ball to a screaming Elise Anderson down the right flank. Anderson then flicked a perfect ball into the middle of the Cyclones six-yard box that connected with the inner right boot of Williams.

As she has all year long, Williams was up to the task when her team needed her the most, recording her 14th overall goal and seventh game-winner of the season, breaking the program record for game-winning goals in a season.

The goal for the Red Raiders came in a flash and not a minute too soon, as freshman Avery Gillahan and the Cyclone backline combined for eight saves in 27 minutes of action, none more crucial than a three-save sequence off a corner kick that featured a pair of highlight reel saves from the keeper and well-timed team save (a clearance off the goal line by an ISU defender).

Heading to the half up by the ever-important goal, Tech set its sights on one thing and one thing only: finding a way to close out victory number 14 and the critical three points.

Sure, there were other contests in and around the Big 12, as all 14 programs were in action on the same night separated by just one hours’ time.

Entering the night, the clinch scenario for Tech was simple: Win and the outright title was secured.

A draw? Well then, they would have needed help in the form of a loss or draw from No. 7 BYU who hosted UCF tonight. After leading at the break by a score of 3-1, the Cougars closed out a 3-2 victory.

But once again all that mattered for the Red Raiders was the task at hand in Ames, Iowa.

After the halftime break, Tech continued to try and strike the balance between pushing for the second goal and managing the moment.

For the first 35-40 minutes of the half, the mission was accomplished, as Tech held ISU without a credible scoring chance until the final five minutes of the match.

Then the true resolve of the 2023 Red Raiders moved front-and-center once again.

Goalie Madison White as she did time-and-time-again during the entire season came up with two clutch saves.

The first save came off a deflected Red Raider clearance attempt and required the Rockwall native to make a sprawling and alert dive across the right-hand side of the net. The dive and subsequent punch resulted in the Cyclones earning one last corner attempt.

With the clock ticking under 10, ISU served a bouncing corner kick that deflected way outside the 18-yard box and somehow found a wide-open Gillahan. The freshman goalkeeper ripped a shot that White was able to catch and secure all the way to the ground as time expired.

In the 1-0 victory, White made three clutch saves, recording her program-best 37th all-time clean sheet and 11th of the season. The fifth-year senior is now tied for third single-season clean sheet mark.

White’s save percentage now sits over 86 percent for the season, as she has allowed just eight goals in 18 matches overall and allowed just four goals in 10 Big 12 matches. White recorded seven of her 11 shutouts on the season against Big 12 foes.

Picked fifth in the preseason poll, coach Tom Stone and the Red Raiders left no doubt, winning the league with an unblemished 8-0-2 mark and in convincing fashion.  Tech trailed for less than 40 minutes in 10 Big 12 matches and stood at least tied atop the tables for the entire Big 12 slate.

“This moment means a lot,” said Stone. “To come to Ames and have to beat a team that was trying to get in the Big 12 Tournament, we knew that we’d get a good game for them, which we did. But for Ashleigh, Alex Kerr and Elise to combine on the winning goal and get out of here with a 1-0 win seemed fitting. We’re proud of this group for getting the Big 12 Championship trophy.”

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