There was no Video Assistant Referee (VAR) available at Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference final between No. 1 UCCS at No. 2 Colorado School of Mines, much to the disappointment of Mountain Lions coach Sian Hudson.
The Orediggers’ 2-0 win at Mountain Lion Stadium, the first loss for top-ranked UCCS (19-1), came with a few questions from the UCCS coach: Did Tanner Sanders’ shot in the first half cross the goal line? Was Chaney Brugman onside when she received the ball and put Colorado School of Mines in front? Did Caitlin Esterle really foul an Oredigger, setting up a penalty kick and the final score?
“I think the RMAC has to look really hard at increasing the level of refereeing in this conference,” Hudson said.
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The drama started midway through the first half with UCCS controlling the play. Sanders, a UCCS freshman, got in behind the Mines’ defense and ripped a shot off the underside of the post that bounced near the goal line. Neither the center referee nor her assistant awarded a goal, but the primary official made the box hand signal to go to the VAR review, setting off a UCCS celebration. When the referee got within earshot of the press box, there was no replay available and the goal was waved off.
“I think the film will show that it was over the line,” Hudson said minutes after reviewing the play on a TV reporter’s camera.
Later in the first half, Brugman got on the end of what looked to be an errant shot and was 1-on-1 with UCCS keeper Mollee Swift. Swift appealed for offside as soon as Brugman’s shot rolled into goal to no avail.
“I’ll be interested to see if that was an offside call,” Hudson said. “It’s definitely some interesting ones to review on film.”
The second of Hudson’s major gripes came when Esterle and an Oredigger attacker collided near the end line and the referee pointed to the spot.
“I think the penalty call right before half time was the major deciding factor and just took the wind out of our sails so to speak,” Hudson said. “But we’ll regroup.”
The Mountain Lions kept the pressure on in the second half but failed to break through.
"I think at times we struggled to break them down and then in the moments where we did have a really good opportunities, I think we’ve got to be a little bit more clinical in front of goal and capitalize on that chance and then maybe the momentum shifts," Hudson said.
Savannah Mills was denied a goal in the 65th minute when Oredigger keeper Shannon Mooney, the tournament’s MVP, made a diving save. In the 73rd minute, Mooney pushed a Taeya Schueppert shot off the crossbar and over. The Orediggers’ senior keeper earned congratulations from Hudson after her press conference.
“All credit to Mines,” Hudson said. “They managed the game extremely well. They’ve got an experienced team.”
Despite all the frustration and questions, the loss figures to be little more than a blemish on the UCCS slate. Hudson expects the Mountain Lions will open the NCAA Tournament at home when the bracket is unveiled Monday.
“Of course we’ll be a little disappointed to not be lifting that trophy today, but I think we’re going to use it, learn from our mistakes and fortunately enough we worked so hard all season to be in a situation where we’re still in this and we’re definitely far from being done,” junior midfielder Ella Fischer said.
“I think that it lights a little bit of a fire in us,” UCCS senior captain Aleesa Muir added. “I think that although we are a young team we do have a lot of experience as well and a lot of fire in us. I think that with this loss we can go into the NCAA tournament ready to go, ready to take on anyone we face.”
Hudson also looked forward to Monday’s practice so she could officially put Saturday in the past.
“I think I could speak for the 500 or so people in the stadium today when we say that unfortunately I think major refereeing decisions decided the outcome of that match,” Hudson said.