AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Azusa Pacific scored once in each half and didn’t surrender a shot on goal in a season-opening 2-0 win over William Jessup at the Cougar Classic Thursday afternoon at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
The Cougars piled up a 30-2 shots advantage, with both William Jessup strikes well off the mark. Sophomore midfielder Michael Sahagian headed in a long throw-in from junior defender Davis Delamarter on a high hop, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the game.
Although Azusa Pacific fired 17 first-half shots, Sahagian’s header was all that accounted for the 1-0 halftime margin. The Cougars took another 13 shots in the second half, with junior forward Nathan Nienhuis finishing a breakaway opportunity created by senior defender Cameron Valentine in the 64th minute. Valentine’s long clearance was won in the air by Nienhuis, who pushed it past the last William Jessup defender and dribbled 25 yards into the box. He beat the charging goalkeeper with a low strike that gave Azusa Pacific an important insurance goal.
“It’s always nice to win the first game, but I think it’s clear that we have a lot we need to clean up,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “We definitely need our strikers and midfielders to connect a lot better in the final third, but I think that’s always an area of focus any time you have a group of players in key positions that are still learning how to play with each other.”
Nienhuis fired a team-high 6 shots, including another team-high 3 on goal, and 4 other Cougars took at least 4 shots. Senior forward Alex Earl had 5 shots, including a pair of headers within 5 minutes of Sahagian’s first-half goal that William Jessup goalkeeper Jeff Dunn controlled for 2 of his 9 saves.
Freshman midfielder Oktay Bulut (4 shots) hit the left post on a 26-yard free kick. Nienhuis had a shot headed towards the goal but cleared off the line by a Warrior defender in the final minute of the first half, and another Nienhuis strike in the 80th minute hit the left post.
In addition to its commanding shots advantage, Azusa Pacific also dominated corner kicks, taking 11 to William Jessup’s 1. Sophomore goalkeeper Joe Geletko did not have to make a save to register the shutout in his first collegiate start.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 1-0 and finishes the Cougar Classic with a 5 p.m. matchup Saturday against Trinity Western (B.C.), which lost to Westmont by a 1-0 tally in the first game Thursday. William Jessup takes on Westmont in Saturday’s first contest, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m.