After battling through a scoreless first half, Azusa Pacific looked every bit the NAIA power its No. 2 preseason ranking implies, exploding for 4 goals in the second half in a 4-0 season-opening victory over No. 6-ranked Hastings (Neb.) at the Westmont Heritage Club Classic Friday afternoon.
Junior Sven Simon emerged as the early candidate to pick up a chunk of the offensive void left by the departure of a pair of 2005 NAIA All-American attackers who accounted for 36 goals during the Cougars’ run to the NAIA title game a year ago. Simon volleyed a cross from sophomore Jared Karkas less than 4 minutes into the second half, then added a penalty kick goal less than 5 minutes later to give Azusa Pacific a 2-0 lead over its 2005 NAIA tournament semifinal opponent. Simon took the penalty shot after junior midfielder Steven Lenhart was dragged down in the box.
"Hastings was better than us in the first half," said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf, the 2005 National Soccer Coaches Association of America Coach of the Year. "As we went in the second half, however, we just seemed to take over. Our fitness was very good, and we just kept wearing them down."
Lenhart headed in a cross from senior Skelly Kellar in the 72nd minute to give the Cougars a 3-0 lead, and Kellar added a goal of his own off an assist from senior Dustin McBride at the 85-minute mark to round out the scoring.
Sophomore goalkeeper James Crawford made 6 saves to preserve his 4th career shutout in his 8th collegiate start.
The Cougars continue their brutal preseason lineup Saturday morning with an 11 a.m. matchup with No. 7-ranked Oklahoma Baptist, which suffered a 3-1 defeat to Westmont Friday. Four of Azusa Pacific’s first 5 opponents of the 2006 season were 2005 NAIA Tournament participants, and the fifth, Mobile (Ala.), has appeared in 10 NAIA Tournaments over the past 13 seasons.