Concordia and Lee Earn Spot in Championship Finale
Box Score - Azusa Pacific (Calif.) vs. Lee (Tenn.)
DECATUR, Ala. - Eighth-seeded Concordia (Ore.) and third-seeded Lee (Tenn.) punched their tickets to the title game of the 2011 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship at Jack Allen Recreation Complex. The Cavaliers posted a 4-0 shutout of fifth-seeded Point Loma Nazarene (Calf.) in the first game, followed by a 2-0 blanking of second-seeded Azusa Pacific (Calif.) by the Lady Flames on Friday.
Concordia's offense was a quick-striking balanced attack, featuring four different scorers that were assisted by four additional players. The Cavaliers wasted little time getting on the board as Brittany Orr found Lauryn Helmers for a goal 15:59 into the match and a 1-0 lead. They struck again four minutes later with Hannah Scott sending a ball to the back of the net after taking a pass from Alex Thomas.
"The first goal really opened things up," Concordia head women's soccer coach Grant Landy said. "I thought that during the first 15 - 20 minutes they were feeling each other out, but after that score, our intensity went up and theirs [Point Loma Nazarene] dropped. We knew they had gone to two overtime games and would have tired legs. We're a deep team and that is one of our strengths."
At the 40:12 mark, Sydney Tucker teamed with Alex Blalock to take a 3-0 advantage, and four minutes later, Hayley Hayes dished to Jackie Hendrickson to give Concordia a 4-0 halftime lead and eventual win.
"Four goals in the first half, you can't ask for a better first half than what we had," Landy said. "I wanted them to make the most of the opportunity and reiterated that if we were going to lose, Point Loma Nazarene had to beat our best effort."
Concordia pushes their season record to 19-4-1 and is now 3-3-0 all-time in Semifinal appearances. Landy will guide his squad to into its third national championship title game, previously advancing in 2004 and 2007.
"It takes so much work to even get here," Landy said. "I'm thinking back to the times before and I want to do things a bit better from a coaching stand point to put them in the right place to finally win."
The four goals were the most surrendered by the Point Loma Nazarene defense all season. The Sea Lions bow out in the Semifinals for the second time in four trips to the National Championship and conclude their campaign with a record of 19-2-4.
In the second Semifinal match, Lee netted a goal in each half en route to a 2-0 win over Azusa Pacific and pushed its record to 22-2-0. Ode Fulutudilu led a Lady Flames charge down the field, connecting with Ashley Aragona, who kicked in the first goal for a 1-0 lead at the 20:34 mark.
"I think the big thing was that we had to go out and show a lot of desire," Lee head women's soccer coach Matt Yelton said. "This is an Azusa Pacific team that plays with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. I think that [Azusa Pacific head women's soccer coach] Jason [Surrell] does an absolutely fantastic job of getting his kids ready to play and we knew had to match that. We knew that we had to go out and have a fantastic effort."
The 1-0 first-half lead stood until midway through the second half when Jordan Woody scored off of an assist from Leah Fortune for a 2-0 advantage with 16:10 left on the clock. That goal clinched the win and shut the Cougars out for the fourth time this season.
"Defensively, to be able to shut out a team like Azusa Pacific is a really good statement out of our backs," Yelton said. "Now we're going to be dealing with a Concordia team tomorrow night that scored four goals in the first half, so we have to turn right around and deal with another battle."
Despite a 14-12 edge in shots, including four on target, and taking five corner kicks to Lee's three, Azusa Pacific was unable to capitalize on its opportunities. The Cougars close out their season with a record of 16-3-2. It was their 10th Semifinal appearance in 14 consecutive trips to the event.
"It's really rewarding to beat a team the caliber of Azusa Pacific," Yelton said. "You talk about the history of the NAIA and you talk about great programs and Azusa Pacific is one the programs that comes to mind. To go out and get the win tonight, I think it is something that we will really treasure. As much as we get to enjoy this, we will for about 30 minutes and then focus on tomorrow."
Saturday's title match marks the fifth time in the NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship's 28-year history that two teams will once again face each other in the finale. Former NAIA members Berry (Ga.) and Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) collided in 1989 and 1990, along with former NAIA member Simon Fraser (B.C.) and Mobile (Ala.) squaring off in 1996 and 1997. Lee and Concordia met in the 2008 finale, which was also the first of three-straight championships for the Lady Flames. They are aiming to become the first NAIA women's soccer program ever to win four-consecutive titles.
"We're definitely aware of the fourth," Yelton said. "We definitely know what we're chasing tomorrow night, but it is something we did not focus on until after this game. We're going to have to go through a great Concordia team to achieve our goals. I think we've got a group of girls that are committed to accomplishing the goal that we set out at the beginning of the year and that was to defend a national championship."
The game will also be the second meeting this season between Landy's Cavaliers and Yelton's Lady Flames. On Aug. 25, Lee traveled to Concordia and picked up a 1-0 victory.
"I watched them play tonight and I've watched us over the course of the year and both teams have improved so much," Yelton said. "Grant does an amazing job with his team each and every year. He is consistently at the final site; he's brought that team, for me, leaps and bounds since August. There's a reason they're playing in the final tomorrow night. There's a reason they knocked off a No. 1 seed and he fully deserves to have his team playing for a championship tomorrow night."