(Photo by David Lias)
By Jeremy Hoeck
Having played a combined 11,000 minutes on a soccer field, the end came suddenly for Erin Bello and Rachel Greene.
After four years, two conferences, two coaches and 11 wins, their careers were over.
The senior duo for the University of South Dakota were honored prior to Saturday afternoon's Summit League soccer game against Kansas City, and then battled with their younger teammates to a 1-0 season-ending loss.
"All of a sudden I looked over at the scoreboard and there was one minute left, and it hit me, 'This is my last minute ever,'" Greene said. "It felt really weird."
Since 2009, the tandem in the midfield have been a mainstay in the USD lineup. Bello ranks first all-time in school history with 6,035 minutes played, followed by Greene at 5,215 minutes.
Through all the hurdles and facing another sub-par season, it was still hard for them to grasp the end, Bello said.
"This was actually pretty strange. Last year our senior day wasn't the very last game, so it wasn't quite as emotional," she said.
"This one there were definitely emotions coming out."
Saturday afternoon had plenty of nail-biting and frustrating moments for the Coyotes, who finish the season at 2-13-3 overall and 1-6-1 in the Summit League.
Kansas City, a team also nearing the end of a sub-par campaign, had the edge in shots on goal (9-3) and total shots (14-10)
The only goal came in the 36th minute when Kansas City's Taylor Bare tapped in an easy score after USD goalkeeper Jen Schaefer missed on a dive.
"I'm still pretty bitter about that goal, as a defender," Greene said. "It shouldn't have happened. But we had chances all game to tie it up."
Among those chances was a shot wide by junior Jenny Teslow with 15:20 left (eliciting a loud cheer by the crowd, who didn't see the shot miss) and a header that went wide with 1:10 remaining.
From there, the focus turned back to Bello and Greene.
"They were saying to the group just now that they've seen such improvement," said head coach Mandy Green, who has guided the duo over the last three years of their career.
"We just need to keep at it and enjoy every day, then the success will come."
It's been a long, tough journey for the Coyotes since joining the Summit League last fall. In conference games over those two years, USD is 2-13-2 — the one victory this year coming in dramatic fashion at North Dakota State.
The Coyotes had the nation's youngest roster in 2011, with 21 freshmen, and followed that up this season with 10 freshmen. Green said she doesn't expect near that many next fall, with only three high school commitments to this point.
"When you can actually have numbers and have girls pushing each other for spots, it makes a big difference," said Bello, who leaves with the ninth-most goals (14) in school history.
Another bright spot for the Coyotes down the line will be next year's schedule. USD will have home games with Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Loyola Chicago, and will also play Northern Illinois at a game in Brookings.
"I'm extremely happy with how far we've come," Green said. "We still have a ways to go to close that gap, but we'll keep after it."
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck