The Cougars' offensive machine was strengthened by junior forward's Theresa Broad's career-high 4 goals in addition to solid performances from senior forward Bridget Brotherton and junior defender Katie Rorabaugh.
Even though the weight of the Cougars may rest on the starting 11's shoulders, the team's strength lies in its complete roster. For when a player exits the game, another player just as strong will be taking her place. Azusa Pacific has been reaping the benefits of a deep bench as senior midfielder Saxony Ifland and sophomore midfielder Stephanie Yoro both contributed today with goals off indirect kicks.
"This is the deepest team we've ever had," said Cougar head coach Jason Surrell. "There's not a big drop-off when we put subs in. It's difficult in my position to find minutes for everybody because we have so many good players."
The key moment of the match occurred in the 17th minute, with the Cougars holding a 2-1 lead. Bethel's Kendall Nuffer hit a booming shot on the post, and fellow Wildcat DeAnna Flores had a timely opportunity off the rebound to tie the score and make it a competitive match.
Freshman goalkeeper Alexa Douglas, however, scrambled to her left and dove to make her first great save as a Cougar off the Flores shot and help Azusa Pacific regain its swagger en route to a seven-goal victory.
"There were certain things that we needed to tighten up in the back but Alexa positioned herself well and made a good save," said Surrell. "Bethel may have thought they were in it at 1-1 but I never felt like we lost control of the game. We had just had a couple lapses in the back but we talked it about halftime. We made our adjustments and we were ready for the second half."
"We were not worried," adds Broad. "We knew that we would have to pick it up. We came out pretty slow defensively all over the field from forward to back. We were not putting pressure on them and that was our fault. So we knew we had to pick it up and work harder. We did and then things happened for us."
Even though the defense had a slight drop-off in allowing 7 Bethel shots and the first opposing goal of the season, the offense had no trouble generating opportunities with 28 shots and 19 of them on goal. Broad led the offensive charge with 2 first-half goals and 2 second-half goals.
The NAIA All-American Broad showed off her masterful dribbling skills as she took every ball she received and found some way to move it around her opponents. Her third goal, which gave the Cougars a 6-1 lead in the 48th minute, involved her proceeding 20 yards through the entire Wildcat defensive line and the goalkeeper. After Broad maneuvered around the keeper, she put a sliding kick through the center of the empty net to shut down any hope of a Bethel resurgence in the second half.
"It was great to play for all the girls. They're doing great. I can't score 4 goals without them," said Broad. "We're all out there for each other so whoever has the option to shoot is going to shoot. We're looking for our forwards and midfield to provide for each other. We had a lot of that in the first half so we're more happy about playing with each other than the goals we're scoring. It's exciting that our scoring is coming from all these different players."
Teamwork and chemistry is essential to Azusa Pacific's success. The Cougars consider bonding an important part of their team structure. And it has been evident so far with placing passes at the right position in the goal box. Ten different Cougars have scored in the first 3 games.
"Bonding is very important," said Rorabaugh. "We have all these new players coming this year, and we knew right off the bat that we would have to bond. Bonding is one of the first things you want to do to make a team work. It would be so hard to play out here without bonding, not knowing who's doing what would be tough."
Rorabaugh made the first strike of the day as she stole the ball from a Wildcat defender and put through a beautiful center-post shot just 73 seconds into the contest. She scored her first goal of the season and assisted on 2 additional goals, including an insurance Brotherton goal which gave the Cougars a 3-1 lead in the 21st minute. Brotherton and senior midfielder Karen Lawrence also had 2 assists.
"It felt good because we knew Bethel could be tough competition for us," said Rorabaugh. "So it was good to get a goal early to calm our nerves down."
Goals have come aplenty in the last 8 days as the Cougars have scored 21 goals, a program-best for a 3-game opening to a season. Perhaps the last goal of this offensive explosion will be the one most-talked for the week to come. In the 81st minute, newcomer Stephanie Yoro took an indirect kick and turned into a booming 40-yard line drive which landed just underneath the goal bar.
No doubt happy with their early-season performance, the Cougars no way observe it as a realistic portrayal to how the rest of the season will pan out. Azusa Pacific will have more difficult games down the road, including a 10-game regular season slate with their GSAC rivals. They have not met a team which has challenged them yet but Surrell said they will find out where their progression is soon enough.
"I think we would like to play a little more difficult opponents," said Surrell. "We find out Tuesday night where we stand. These first 3 games weren't the challenge we had hoped for."
After building their record to 3-0 with a 21-1 onslaught on the foe, Azusa Pacific visits NCAA Division II No. 24-ranked Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson, Calif., Tuesday (Sept. 9). Bethel, meanwhile, drops its record to 0-3-1 and returns Tennessee without a win in its 2-game Southern California trip.