Around this time of year, things start to change. The air gets colder, trees change colors and holiday shopping begins. On the Mason women’s soccer team, Head Coach Diane Drake saw some changes unfold with her team as well.

Sophomore goalkeeper Lyndse Hokanson was the first to turn her season around. Playing the Old Dominion Monarchs in Norfolk, Va. for the first game of the conference schedule, senior goalkeeper Alex Bodenschatz allowed three first half goals.

When Hokanson came in, she allowed one late in the second half, but with a 4-save performance as her minutes increased in overtime, Hokanson solidified a starting job without a split in minutes. Over the next nine games, she only allowed eight goals, compiling four clean sheets along the way.
“Everybody makes her look better and she makes other people look better,” Drake said. “It has been very good, very positive, peaking all at the right times.”

The Patriots needed some strong goalkeeping down the stretch. After allowing seven goals in the first two conference games — four at Old Dominion and three at conference leader William & Mary — Mason allowed a mere three goals over the next seven games.

“It’s just much more cohesion on our back line,” Hokanson said. “Once we were able to get our back line sorted out, together, they’ve just been getting better and better every game.”

In addition, they found a breath of fresh air in their forwards. After Omolyn Davis, who did not know how not to score, left the Patriots, Drake had a scoring gap that needed to be filled. Tiana Kallenberger, in her junior year, stepped up. She has 17 points on five goals and seven assists so far, but even those numbers don’t give her the goal lead.

The team’s senior forward, Zoe Doherty, in her second year with the Patriots after playing at Dublin City University in Ireland, has that title. She has tallied six goals in her final season with Mason and coupled it with two assists. Between Doherty and Kallenberger, they have posed a great double-headed scoring threat to conference opponents.

But the surprise of the year is freshman forward Liz Hodges. While her scoring totals are not quite on par with the upperclassmen — two goals and two assists — her moves force the team to play with a little more chutzpah. Her finishing moves are good, but opportunities are scarce for the freshman.

That was good enough for a second-place tie in the conference standings. The ranked Tribe in Williamsburg worked wonders with a 10-game unbeaten streak to clinch the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the rest of the conference was up for grabs. The Patriots were in perfect position, tied with VCU for second in the conference with a 4-2-3 record, 15 points.

But coming in to Sunday, only four points separated the middle 10 teams in the conference, proving that another shakeup could be in order heading into the final week. At halftime of Mason’s 1-2 loss to Drexel, the conference games with a 1:00 p.m. start time were finishing up. Over the PA system, players, coaches and fans, already angry with a 0-2 deficit, listed as VCU, Northeastern, JMU and Delaware were winning, with Hofstra finishing a 2-0 rout playing the Seahawks, who were in the conference basement.

“We were in a really good position coming in to today,” Hokanson said. “And we just didn’t bring what we should have today. It’s unfortunate because our seniors really deserve more.”

Everyone realized, if the scores held, that Mason would fall from second all the way to a tie with Hofstra for fifth. Six teams go to the tournament this year, rather than the four teams that the conference sent last year.

The Patriot women (7-6-5, 4-3-3) return to action as they host Towson (9-9-0, 4-6-0) at 5 p.m. in the first game of a women-men doubleheader. A win clinches a playoff berth, but a loss or a tie could throw a wrench into the whole process.

“No pressure, just more energy,” said forward Nicole Peters, who scored the lone goal Sunday. “We’re excited to play. Towson’s a good team. We’re ready for them. We’ve got a whole week to get ready, train hard. We want it, I know we want it, so I’m not worried.”