UC Santa Cruz’s women’s soccer team qualified for the NCAA Division III championship tournament on Monday for the third year in a row. It’s the only independent team in its division to earn a spot in the tournament.

As an independent team, meaning the team isn’t part of a conference, UCSC had to first compete against five other independent teams. It was selected for the tournament based on a number of criteria, including its records against other Division III teams and the overall difficulty of the schedule. The team finished the season with a 5-14-1 game record.

This season’s success is all the more surprising due to the number of challenges women’s soccer faced this year. After the athletic department dismissed former head coach Emily Scheese in June, two months passed before new head coach Lauren Nadler was hired on Aug. 15, just four days before the season started. As a new coach, Nadler also had to incorporate an unusually large recruitment class of 10 freshmen to the team’s existing lineup.

“This group has done a really great job with a large number of freshmen and a smaller number of seniors,” Nadler said. “But overall, this team has done a great job from the start of coming together and working as a group and this has been what has allowed us to succeed.”

For many players, the unexpected hurdles only motivated the team to succeed. Kayla McCord, junior midfielder and team captain, said the team is playing its best season yet.

“The fact that there was so much uncertainty going into the season made us play our hearts out because we’re just really grateful to be here,” McCord said. “We wanted to show the world that we love this game, we’re here to stay and we’re going to enjoy every minute of it.”

Women’s soccer will have its first tournament game on Saturday against Cal Lutheran. The Slugs previously competed against the Division III team on Oct. 2, when the team lost its match 1-0. This time, the stakes are high for the Slugs to redeem themselves. If the team wins Saturday’s game, it will immediately go on to the next round that same afternoon. If it loses, the team will be eliminated.

Nadler explained the team is preparing for the tournament by honing in on its defensive skills, precision and, above all, the players’ abilities to work together while playing on Cal Lutheran’s home turf.

“We’re going to have to expect a lot of noise from a lot of different areas, [because] it’s the home crowd’s field,” Nadler said. “We’re going to need to be ready to be in that hyped up, loud environment and stay calm and also be true to who we are and do what we do best, which is defending well as a group, attacking and moving that ball off the field.”