KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Bracket | Live Stats | Schedule) The 29th annual NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship presented by the Sports Medicine Center at the Orthopedic Group, P.C., kicks off opening round action at 15 campus sites on Saturday. The 31-team field features five teams that have claimed at least one national championship banner and eight squads that are making their first-ever appearance. Saturday's 15 winners, as well as host school No. 5 Mobile (Ala.), will advance to the national championship final site from Nov. 26 - Dec. 1 in Orange Beach, Ala.
This year's 31-team field is comprised of 24 automatic qualifiers - awarded to conference/independent/unaffiliated group tournament and regular-season champions - six at-large bids and Mobile, who received a host berth. The six at-large berths were determined based on the final official NAIA Women's Soccer Modified Ratings Percentage Index (MRPI).
Lee (Tenn.), Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Martin Methodist (Tenn.) and Concordia (Ore.) have hosted every opening round since the format began in 2008. Additionally, all four teams are a perfect 4-0-0 in those matches.
Top seed and four-time defending national champion Lee, who is making its ninth championship appearance, boasts a 26-3-2 all-time championship record and is currently riding an unprecedented 20-match championship unbeaten streak dating back to 2008. During the streak, the Lady Flames have outscored their opponent 57-3 and boast shutouts in 17 of the 20 matches.
A national title this season would give Lee five-straight, which would be the second-most consecutive national titles for a women's soccer program amongst all divisions. NCAA Division I North Carolina holds the current record with 12-straight titles from 1986-1997. The Lady Flames host first-time qualifier and Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament champion Montreat (N.C.) at 2 p.m. EST. Lee and Montreat have six prior meetings - all regular season - on the books with the Lady Flames holding a 5-1-0 advantage in the series.
Carlow (Pa.), Cumberland (Tenn.), Davenport (Mich.), Doane (Neb.), Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), Faulkner (Ala.), Montreat and Viterbo (Wis.) make up the eight first-time qualifiers. Seven of the eight teams qualified by claiming a conference tournament or regular season titles, while Faulkner received an automatic spot by finishing as the runner-up in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) Tournament on Nov. 10. All eight teams will be on the road in the opening round.
Conversely, Westmont (Calif.) (15), Lindsey Wilson (14) and Concordia (12) have made 10-or-more national championship appearances. The Warriors are the most decorated of the trio, boasting a tournament field-best 28 victories and NAIA-leading five national crowns. Westmont's last title came in 1999 when it defeated former NAIA member Transylvania (Ky.), 3-0. Lindsey Wilson owns two national championships - the most recent coming in 2006 - while Concordia is seeking the program's first. Westmont will travel to 16th-seeded Northwood (Fla.) for a 2 p.m. EST start, while No. 2 Lindsey Wilson hosts Park (Mo.) at 1 p.m. CST and No. 8 Concordia welcomes Cal State San Marcos at 7:30 p.m. PST.
Outside of the eight newcomers, seven teams are vying for their first victory since opening round play began in 2008. Fourth-seeded Oklahoma City's seven appearances is the most amongst the winless group, however the Stars have advanced in two of their three opening round contests by virtue of penalty kicks.
Of the 15 matches taking place on Saturday, only one pits two teams with previous national championship series history when No. 14 Baker (Kan.) hosts Bellevue (Neb.) at 5:30 p.m. CST. The squads met in last season's opening round with the Wildcats claiming a 2-1 victory on an Alix Schiraldi game-winning goal in the 51st minute.
Mobile, the only team with an Opening Round bye, will face the winner of No. 12 Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) and Viterbo on Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. CST. The Rams are enjoying a spot in their seventh national championship - third straight.
The SSAC, which has consistently placed 4-to-5 teams in the NAIA Women's Soccer Coaches' Top 25 Poll this year, boasts the most teams in the 2012 field. Representing the SSAC is Lee, Mobile, No. 13 William Carey (Miss.) and Faulkner. The Heart of America Athletic Conference sends three teams to the Opening Round: No. 10 Graceland (Iowa), Baker and Benedictine (Kan.).
NeuLion, the NAIA's official video streaming company of 12 select NAIA national championship events, will be broadcasting all final site games of the 2012 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-tournament pass is available for $29.95. For more information and to pre-register, click here.
For more information on the 2012 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship, click here.
For information in regards to Orange Beach, Ala. (final site), click here.