CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Azusa Pacific wanted a challenge, and that’s exactly what it got. The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars surrendered an early goal that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 defeat to No. 3-ranked Lee (Tenn.) Saturday night at the Lady Flames Classic.
The early Lee score served as the appetizer to a contest that proved every bit as entertaining as its billing as the centerpiece of an NAIA national tournament-level 4-game slate featuring 4 programs ranked in the NAIA’s top 14. The teams combined for 35 total shots, and the goalkeepers combined to make 16 saves in a back-and-forth affair.
“For us it was our first true test of our season, in regards to playing a team that’s good enough to win a national championship,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said. “It was a great experience for us, and it’s exactly why we came out here – to play a game of this level.”
Azusa Pacific came out with the game’s first 4 shots, but Lee goalkeeper Leigha Terry stopped 3, and senior forward Sarah Yoro hit the crossbar from deep inside the box just over 6 minutes into the game. Junior forward Theresa Broad’s first opportunity, a strike from the top of the box at the 7-minute mark, was saved by Terry, and Lee capitalized on the counter-attack. Sandra Kaelin’s give-and-go with Jamie Achten pulled Cougar goalkeeper Alexa Douglas out of the net, and Kaelin finished with a touch past Douglas into the goal to give the Lady Flames an early 1-0 lead less than 8 minutes into the game.
“We might have panicked a bit (after giving up the goal), and we didn’t focus on some things we needed to do,” Surrell said. “We had trouble finding our rhythm in the first half, but we just needed to settle down a little bit. We tried to calm things down and try to get our outside backs involved a little bit more.”
Achten scored with just over 12 minutes to go, pushing the Lee advantage to 2-0, but Yoro answered with a picture-perfect 30-yard strike to the upper right corner to cut the lead to 2-1 in the 84th minute.
Yoro had another opportunity in the 88th minute, striking again from nearly the exact same spot, but she wasn’t able to get enough air under it, and Terry stopped it on the bounce to preserve the lead. Azusa Pacific knocked the ball forward once it established possession, and Broad got the best look at the end, over-shooting the crossbar by less than a yard from the far left wing in the closing seconds.
With 22 shots in the game, the Cougars had their chances, and 11 of them were on goal. In the 27th minute, senior defender Karen Lawrencesent in a free kick from 7 yards outside of the box, and senior forward Bridget Brotherton nearly finished with an on-frame header low to the right side that was stopped by Terry. In the 36th minute, Yoro took a shot that was blocked by a Lee defender, but the ball ended up at the feet of junior midfielder Marissa Ranberger for another chance. Ranberger drilled a 20-yard rocket from the top of the box just inside the far post, but Terry was there again for the diving stop.
“I thought we did well to create the number of shots we did, although we didn’t the quality of chances I wanted,” said Surrell, “but to get that many shots on goal against a team that good is respectable. We’ll need to be a little more creative in the final third.”
Yoro, who scored the Cougars’ only goal, fired a game-high 8 shots, putting 4 on goal in addition to the chip off the crossbar in the opening flurry. Douglas made back-to-back spectacular saves just prior to Lee’s second goal, and she finished with 6 stops in just her second collegiate start.
Its first defeat of the season drops Azusa Pacific’s record to 5-1, and the Cougars are off until the Golden State Athletic Conference opener against Fresno Pacific on Wednesday, Oct. 1. Lee remains perfect on the season, improving to 6-0 with its first-ever win over Azusa Pacific in 4 games over the past 4 seasons.