By Chris Bauman, Spring Arbor Athletics
SPRING ARBOR, Mich. – No. 2 Spring Arbor (Mich.) took down the defending national champions, and top-ranked, University of Northwestern Ohio, 1-0, on Wednesday night in front of an electric, capacity crowd at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
Sophomore Morgan Marshall recorded the game-winner in the 63rd minute as the Cougars avenged last year’s loss to the Racers in the 2016 NAIA National Championship Final.
The victory improved Spring Arbor to a perfect 5-0-0 while also moving its home winning streak to 40-consecutive matches dating back to the 2014 season. Northwestern Ohio saw its 18-match winning streak come to an end, falling to 4-1-1 overall.
The rematch of the last season’s title bout started slow with the nation’s top two sides trying to feel each other out. Northwestern Ohio, which ranked as one of the most explosive offenses in team country a year ago, was held in check by the SAU defense, anchored by Sarah Klunder, Malorie Henderlong, Jacquelyn Martin and Haley Lord. The Racers registered just one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes, and a great diving save by Ashley Timmons on that shot attempt kept the match scoreless.
With less than 10 seconds remaining in the first half, junior Bethany Balcer looked to give Spring Arbor a lead heading into halftime, but her blast from 40 yards out sailed just over the crossbar.
Action picked up in the second half as UNOH fired four shots in the first 10 minutes of the period. However, the momentum shifted in the blink of an eye. A Racer turnover in their own third proved costly as the Cougars capitalized for the go-ahead goal. Heavy pressure from Lauren Orr and Renee Broekhuizen led to an errant UNOH pass that was intercepted by Martin. Broekhuizen would then take the ball to the corner and serve a perfect cross that found the head of a darting Marshall to give Spring Arbor the lead.
Searching desperately, Northwestern Ohio nearly found the equalizer with 22 minutes to play in regulation. A long ball went over the top of the Cougar backline and was chased down by UNOH’s Evdokia Popadinova, who looked to have a one-on-one opportunity against the SAU keeper. However, Lord was able to slow her down just enough allowing Henderlong to catch Popadinova from behind and make arguably the biggest play of the night, blocking the shot attempt.
Northwestern Ohio outshot Spring Arbor 15-11, but the Cougars held a 4-2 edge in corner kicks.
Marshall’s goal was her fourth of the season. Timmons finished the night with three saves to notch her second shutout of the season.
Up next, Spring Arbor (5-0-0) will host Concordia University (3-1-0) on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 4 p.m.