SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Two-time defending NAIA runner-up Azusa Pacific returned its top 3 goal scorers from 2006, but 5 of the Cougars’ 6 goals Friday afternoon came from outside that trio in a season-opening 6-0 victory over Northwestern (Iowa) at the Heritage Club Classic hosted by Westmont.
Senior Elijah Mwansanga, a transfer from Oklahoma Baptist, led the way with a pair of goals from his central midfield spot, giving the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars their first goal of the season just over 2 and a half minutes into the game. Steven Lenhart, surrounded by Northwestern defenders every time he touched the ball, earned the assist for setting up Mwansanga’s open shot from the left side of the box.
“(Success) has already been established here,” said Mwansanga, who had 6 career goals in 3 seasons at Oklahoma Baptist, a 2005 NAIA Tournament participant. “Today, I just happened to be a part of the spotlight that this team already has on it.”
Azusa Pacific kept up the pressure with a relentless attack, and when Northwestern was whistled for a handball in the box in the 11th minute, Sven Simon converted the penalty kick for a 2-0 Cougar lead.
“The reality is, there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t ready to play after spending so much time in training camp,” said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf, whose squads have won every season opener in his 7 seasons at the helm. “A big part of it is our guys are just tired of playing against the same people day in and day out, and they are excited to take on somebody new.”
Just over 20 minutes later, senior midfielder Kolt Callaway made it 3-0 in the 32nd minute on a header to the far post off a corner kick from junior defender Jared Karkas, the first of 3 assists for Karkas. Later in the 32nd minute, freshman Jordan Chrzan gave Azusa Pacific a commanding 4-0 lead when he buried a line drive after taking a cross to the near post from junior Beau Hayden.
The Cougars kept up the pressure in the second half with most of the starters on the bench. In the 55th minute, Karkas delivered a cross from the right side to freshman forward Alex Earl at the near post. Earl got the ball across the face of the goal behind the Northwestern goalkeeper, and sophomore forward Mike Wilson, a first-year Cougar after spending a season at Concordia (Ore.), drilled the shot into the back of the open net to give Azusa Pacific a 5-0 lead.
Mwansanga rounded out the scoring on a similar play, with Karkas crossing to Earl in the middle before Earl touched it back to an open Mwansanga from 20 yards out. The low line drive from the 6-foot midfielder found the left side of the goal to round out the scoring at the 61-minute mark.
“Elijah is a fantastic player,” said Wolf. “He has always been defensively conscious, but he has quality going forward. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to pull double duty for us throughout this season as he did today.”
Junior goalkeeper James Crawford made 3 of his 4 saves in the second half, with his only first-half save a stop of a Northwestern penalty kick, to preserve his 11th career shutout.
Azusa Pacific finished with a 34-4 shots advantage and took 7 corner kicks to just 1 for Northwestern, the 2006 NAIA Region III runner-up.
“Joining a championship-caliber team is difficult,” said Mwansanga, who scored 1 of Oklahoma Baptist’s 2 goals when the Bison dropped a 4-2 decision to Azusa Pacific at last year’s Heritage Club Classic. “Winning today is hopefully the first of many good times for this group.”
With the win, the Cougars have now won 8 consecutive and 19 of their last 21 season openers. Azusa Pacific is back in action for its second game at the Heritage Club Classic, taking on Dominican Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Santa Barbara.