In the 2003 NAIA Tournament semifinals for women’s soccer, already down 1-0, the William Jewell Cardinals suddenly fell behind by yet another goal only 30 seconds into the second half.
“I thought I had given the greatest halftime speech,” said their bewildered coach, Chris Cissell.
Said Kristin Neher Ebberts, “I looked at (Allison) Mallams and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We took the kickoff and literally scored in less than 30 seconds. We (later) tied it up and then scored with a minute left in the game.”
Call it history, as the Cardinals became the first team on campus to reach an NAIA Final Four, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct the 2003 William Jewell Women’s Soccer Team with the Class of 2023.
Constructed entirely of Missouri high school graduates – and allotted only three scholarships by the university – the Cardinals were the highest-scoring team in the nation at any level.
Their record? Try 21-1-1 and, ultimately, a No. 3 national ranking. In fact, the record included a perfect 18-0 mark in the Heart of America Athletic Conference, although the Cardinals advanced to nationals by the skin of their teeth, on an at-large bid.
Team members were Andrea Turner, Stefanie Carson, Lara Melenbrink, Melissa Reh, Rebekah Lassiter, Kerry Regan, Anneliese Laughman, Sarah Alderman, Charleen Keller, Lindsay Davis, Sydney Boggess, Celine Jajko, Tasha Soltis, Sarah McCarthy, Kristin Neher, Megan Penrod, Aly Diaz, Mallori Kaminski, Sabrina Denny, Megan Sharp, Molly Thye, Jenna Einhellig, Chrissie Miller, Alyson Cox and Allison Mallams. Mallams was a First Team All-American, while Neher earned Second Team All-American. Thye was an honorable mention. Assistants were Johnny Chain and Rob Thomson.
“We bonded a lot during preseason, during the two weeks that we were constantly around one another and constantly playing soccer,” Carson said. “Many of us had been playing on the same team or against each other for years, and we just fit so well together.”
Cissell was in his fifth season of coaching the women’s and men’s teams and recruited NCAA Division I-caliber talent. He picked off Mallams from a commitment to the University of Nebraska, and five recruits had played on the same club team.
Jewell’s scholarship limit also forced the coaching staff to recruit high-ACT scores, as academic scholarship money could supply the roster. The NAIA allowed for 12 athletic scholarships in the sport, and yet William Jewell had only three.
In 2003, Mallams scored 43 goals, Neher 41, and the team finished with north of 100 goals.
The team’s midfield, defense, stout goalkeeper and depth – and speed all around – defined the Cardinals, too. An attacking offense, precision passing and quality possessions fueled success.
All of which allowed for creativity not usually seen in the NAIA. For instance, Boggess, an outside right back, led the nation with 19 assists.
To Thye, credit the coaching staff, too.
“They all bring a feel-good energy, so when you play for them you leave everything on that field,” Thye said.
“Not that we expected to win each game, but it gave us confidence, the ability to relax, and have fun together on and off the field,” said Jajko. “Jewell is a small private school. We saw each other on campus quite a lot; in class, lunchroom, and dorms.”
A tie in a postseason shootout forced the Cardinals to wait nervously for the at-large bid.
“I remember being so devastated,” Neher said. “We got called for a team meeting, and I just remember being so sad. At the meeting, Coach told us we made it to nationals since we did so well during the season. I think I might have jumped through the roof at that point!”
The Elite Eight was in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the Cardinals received a first-round bye. They then beat Oklahoma City University and rallied to beat Azusa Pacific in the quarterfinals.
“To me, it felt like we had already won the national championship,” Neher said. “To this day, I still smile thinking about that tournament and all the fun.”
Unfortunately, the season ended in a 4-1 loss to No. 2-ranked Westmont of California, which later won its third consecutive national title.
“At the time, we had no idea the impact we were creating for William Jewell Soccer,” Carson said. “We just wanted to play our favorite sport. … This team really is special, and the few times we have all been around each other in the last 20 years it’s as if we had never parted.”