AZUSA, Calif. -- During late August training under the hot valley sun Azusa Pacific diligently prepared for the upcoming season. Little did they know that 20 matches later it would still be standing tall – unbeaten and the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
The Cougars find themselves in that exact spot after they knocked off No. 10-ranked Point Loma Nazarene, 1-0, to claim their second consecutive Region II championship. Azusa Pacific again displayed its formula for victory with a knack for getting enough scoring while its defense shut down the opponents attack. The Cougars had multiple 1-on-1 opportunities that they could not convert. However, it did not matter as Bridget Brotherton scored in the 42nd minute on a ball served in by Lauren Vroom to give Azusa Pacific the only goal it would need in a 1-0 win over the Sea Lions.
In a game full of open near misses, Brotherton’s goal in a crowded box was the difference. “Vroom put it in there and I touched it forward. It made the keeper come out and I was able to slot it far post,” said Brotherton.
“The first half of soccer was the best half we have played all year,” said head coach Jason Surrell. “Sometimes you finish a bunch and other times you don’t when you deserve to. I’m really encouraged with how we played.”
The Cougars put constant pressure on the Sea Lions defense particularly in the second half when they took 10 of their 17 shots. With less than 3 minutes gone by in the second half Shannon Coe had a chance to score after beating her defender but her shot went wide. Brotherton later had a shot hit the post and another sail over the crossbar. It was just 1 of those days.
The defense answered by limiting Point Loma Nazarene to only 2 shots on goal. Keeper Jill Colfer stopped both shots as she recorded her 13th shutout of the season.
“We know as a back 4 that if someone gets on the outside to shift over and cover. I think we work together well as a team. Our goal is to not let anyone score and shut everyone down and so far we have been successful,” said Julie Fletcher.
The success that the Cougars (16-0-4) have experienced this season has been substantial with a regional title to now add to a GSAC championship and a No. 1 ranking for the majority of the season.
“With the kids we lost from last year and the questions we had coming into this season I didn’t think we would do what we have done,” said a drenched, but happy, Surrell. “I still go back to the tournament in Kentucky because I think it gave us the confidence that we can play because I think we were a little unsure in the beginning.”
Back in late September, the Cougars played at the KELME Classic where they ended then top-ranked Lindsey Wilson’s 35-game home unbeaten streak and crushed then No. 4-ranked Lee (Tenn.), 4-1.
The confidence boost the team received during that trip has been evident throughout the rest of the campaign.
After a scoreless tie against the Sea Lions in the first meeting of the season between the 2 teams the Cougars were primed and ready to see them again. “We knew that this time it would be on our field and we wanted to show them that we can play with anyone,” Fletcher said.
Azusa Pacific is now off to the NAIA Tournament next week in Olathe, Kansas.
“The girls are going to get a little time off and then we’ll be ready to go. If we were concerned that we were giving up goals or not creating enough chances we might do more but I think right now we are solid,” said Surrell.