Head Coach Dave Blomquist press conference at the bottom of the story
AZUSA, Calif.-- On Saturday afternoon Azusa Pacific hosts Cal State San Marcos in the opening round of the 31-team NAIA National Tournament after receiving the 4th at-large bid as the 8th ranked (RPI) team in the country. But even though the Cougars put together one of their best seasons in the last few years, there were still concerns after the team lost its chance at an automatic bid when they lost 4-2 to Concordia.
“Waiting for the at-large announcement is always nerve wracking. We felt pretty confident about where we were in the RPI, but we just didn’t know,” said Head Coach Dave Blomquist about the hours leading up to the NAIA announcement. “It was exciting to hear we were in the national tournament. We got together that night to celebrate a little bit. It’s a great accomplishment.”
The Cougars, who beat San Marcos 2-0 earlier this year, hit a bit of a lull over the final week and a half of the regular season, winning just one of four matches (1-1-2 in the last four contests) down the stretch.
“I think over the last four games we haven’t got the results we’ve wanted. We’ve been grinding it out a bit,” said Blomquist. “I don’t think we’ve played that different from the stretch before. I think the break will help and set us up for this weekend.”
Azusa Pacific (12-3-3) is one of just two teams from the GSAC to qualify for the national tournament as Biola earned the automatic bid after winning the GSAC tournament title. The Cougars finished the GSAC regular season in second place (6-1-2), mainly behind the stinginess of their defense.
Azusa Pacific allowed the fewest goals of any team in the conference (15), and had the lowest GAA (0.83) while posting a conference-best nine shutouts.
Cal State San Marcos earned its first-ever postseason nod with a 3-1 win over Thomas (Ga.) in the A.I.I. Championship game. San Marcos (whose mascot is also the Cougars) is 10-6-1, and have won four the last five matches dating back to a 3-2 win over Soka on October 14. San Marcos opened the season with a three-match skid, capped by a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Azusa Pacific.
But since that day they’ve posted a 10-3-1 record and finished 5-3-1 against GSAC opponents. Perhaps San Marcos’ biggest victory of the year came when it beat the GSAC champions, Fresno Pacific, 2-1 on Sept. 17 to extend the Cougars’ winning streak to a season-high five. Azusa Pacific knows going in that this won't be the same team got off just eight shots in its September 3 match.
“We played them early in the year and it was a tough game. We got the win, but they’re going to be better now than they were at the beginning of September,” said Blomquist. “We’ve played them a number of times over the last few years. We know enough about them and we know enough to know they’re good and we’re in for a battle.”
San Marcos is led by Jordan Shadeed, who has tallied six goals and one assist, and Max Blumenshine (five goals one assist). Azusa Pacific hopes to counter with all-GSAC keeper Joe Geletko, who led the conference in save percentage (.808) and shutouts, and all-GSAC defender Lucas Young. On the other side of the field, the duo of all-conference forwards, Oktay Bulut and Carlos Garcia-Partida will look to get the ball past San Marcos’ Kevin Ernst (1.1 GAA) in match that pits two teams with similar scoring averages (1.77 for Azusa Pacific; 1.88 for San Marcos).
If the match is close, it would seems to favor Azusa Pacific as the team is 7-1 in one-goal games this year, while San Marcos has put together a 4-4 clip in contests decided by just a goal.
Azusa Pacific is 3-1 all-time against San Marcos, and is looking to advance to the national tournament site for the first time since its championship run in 2007.
Saturday's match follows the women’s soccer contest with Ottawa (Kan.) at 11 a.m. and is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. The cost of admission will be $5 for students and youth (10 and under), and $8 for all others.