With the victory Azusa Pacific returns to the semifinal finals for the second straight season, a first in program history. The Cougars will take on William Jewell College (Mo.) Monday (Nov. 20) at 3 p.m. (PST) for a right to play for the NAIA national title.
Much like they did in last night’s first-round game vs. Lee (Tenn.), the Cougars struck early against Northwood when Simon pitched a perfectly-placed cross to a wide open Lenhart who converted the play from the far side of the box for a quick 1-0 Cougar lead in the 16th minute.
Azusa Pacific continued a relentless attack against a befuddled Northwood defense and scored less than 2 minutes later when Lenhart returned the favor to Simon with a sharp pass across the box that Simon flicked past a defenseless Seahawk keeper Dustin Vrooman for a comfortable 2-0 Cougar lead that stood until halftime.
“It was great to see Stevie and Sven find each other again,” said Azusa Pacific coach Phil Wolf, who improves to 5-1-2 in NAIA Tournament play. “They seem to have found their scoring touch again.”
Early in the season, Simon and Lenhart teamed to score 13 of the Cougars’ first 18 goals, but the combo went quiet during GSAC play and a month-long injury to Lenhart threw the tandem out of sync. Now, however, they are back on-beat.
“I got a good ball from Sven and just put it away,” said Lenhart of the game’s opening goal. “He is so good at playing balls, that when has it on the side, I just make my run behind the line because I know the ball is going to be a good place.”
Azusa Pacific peppered Vrooman throughout the second half but could not find the back of the net until less than 15 minutes left in the contest when Lenhart tallied his team-leading 13th goal off a Beau Hayden lead pass that put Lenhart wide open in the box.
Northwood went into a desperate mode, placing 10 players in its offensive end and finally cracked through the tight Cougar defense with a Daniel Gocic score in the 77th minute.
In a bold pre-game decision, Wolf opted to sit starting defenders Mark Peters and Eric Winblad to hopefully give them some rest for potential future games. In their place he started Damon Brooks and Jeff Teach, last year’s starting center backs, who have played sparingly this year, losing their roles to the younger Peters and Winblad. The move worked to perfection with Brooks and Teach teaming to play a sharp game in defense.
“They hadn’t played in awhile but they were great,” said Wolf of Teach and Brooks. “It was their game. I’m sorry we didn’t get the shutout because they deserved it.”
“It been extremely tough this year being on the bench,” said Brooks, a fifth-year senior who had played in only 8 games this season after starting 30 the previous 2 seasons. “At the start of the game, I had to fight being nervous, but as the game went on I felt more relaxed.”
“It’s been a good learn opportunity all year,” said Teach. “We’ve had to learn to support younger guys in front of us who are playing great. We had to learn to play our best when we get the opportunity.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 16-3-3 and becomes the only repeat member from last year’s set of semifinalists.
“It’s just massive for the program that we make back-to-back trips to the Final Four,” said Wolf. “We’re still somewhat of a fledgling program, but to make it for a second year speaks volumes about these guys and their commitment to one another.”
William Jewell, which is 18-2-2 on the season, is making its first-ever appearance in the NAIA men’s soccer semifinals. The No. 12-seed Cardinals advanced to Monday’s game by taking a pair of shootouts, first over Southern Nazarene (1-1, 4-2 PK) and then today against Rio Grande (2-2, 3-2 PK).