AZUSA, Calif. -- The Master’s goalkeeper Maria Loza had the game of her life Friday afternoon, stoning GSAC Player of the Year Theresa Broad 6 times in all. However, it was the rest of Broad’s teammates who gave Loza trouble in Azusa Pacific’s 3-0 win over the Mustangs in the GSAC Postseason Tournament semifinals.
Just 3 days ago, the Cougars went scoreless in regulation for the first time in 34 games before scoring a 1-0 overtime win over Point Loma Nazarene, but Azusa Pacific wasted no time pushing its relentless attack through the heart of the Mustangs defense in Friday’s semifinal. The Cougars accounted for 2 corner kicks, were whistled offside twice and launched 7 shots at Loza in the game’s opening 16 minutes.
In the 18th minute, senior defender Lauren Vroom played a ball from the left side over the top of the defense to Broad, who touched it over Loza to the far post for the game’s first score. It would be her only score in 7 shots against Loza, who finished with a season-high 13 saves.
“Coach has been encouraging me to use my freedom to go up and get involved (in the attack),” Vroom said. “Since they were only playing 3 in the back, I had a lot of room to pick out forwards’ feet. They were giving me a lot of room on the outside, and I saw Theresa making that slashing run. I know that 1-on-1, no one can really catch her, so I just hit it over and found her.”
Just 7 minutes later, junior defender Lauren Lane jumped into the attack, finding senior forward Bridget Brotherton through the Mustangs’ defense on the right side. Brotherton turned and took the ball into the penalty box, firing a shot that deflected off the leg of the nearest defender, over Loza and into the goal to give Azusa Pacific a 2-0 lead in the 25th minute.
“We came out a little slow against Vanguard (last week) and again in our game earlier this week, so as a team that lit a spark under us,” Lane said. “The first goal gave us a ton of momentum, and it kept us moving forward.”
The aggressive Cougar attack fired 16 shots in the first half alone, a number that could have reached 20 had they not been whistled offside 5 times before halftime.
“When the time calls for it, (having the defenders involved in the attack) is something we’d love to be able to do,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said. “Lauren Lane is very good going forward, and Lauren Vroom played a great ball over the top to Theresa. It’s not always our main focus, but it’s one aspect of what we want to do.”
In all, Azusa Pacific out-shot The Master’s by a 30-4 margin. If the 2-goal margin weren’t enough to melt away the Mustangs’ comeback hopes, the suffocating Cougar defense allowed only 1 shot after halftime while posting its 11th shutout of the season, its sixth blanking in the past 8 games. Freshman goalkeeper Alexa Douglas wasn’t seriously challenged, making 2 saves to pick up the cleansheet.
“Our defensive pressure all over the field was much better today,” Surrell said. “Our work rate was better, and there seemed to be more excitement about the game. I feel like we’re moving in the direction we need to be moving right now, so it was good to see that today.”
Senior midfielder Sarah Yoro hammered home the final score after taking a free kick on outside the left edge of the penalty box in the 69th minute. Broad collected the rebound off Loza’s initial save and centered it back in front of goal, where Yoro put it away for her 11th goal of the season. The score also extended Yoro’s postseason scoring streak to 3 games, and the senior midfielder has scored or assisted goals in 9 of the Cougars’ past 10 postseason contests over the past 3 seasons.
Broad’s early first-half score was just her second in the past 7 games since scoring a pair against The Master’s when the teams met in the regular season Oct. 14. Had Loza not been at the top of her game, Broad might have snapped more than her scoring drought with her GSAC-leading 21st goal of the season. Broad, who has already registered a pair of 4-game goals this season, sits just 5 goals from the Cougar single-season scoring record of 26 set by Chrissy Sanford in 2001.
“I’ve been struggling a lot, but I just want to do well to contribute to the team doing well,” Broad said. “Other girls are stepping it up and playing great, so because of that, I know that as long as I keep working, I’ll get through the slump. It’s neat to know that if teams focus on me, we’ve got a whole team who can score.”
Brotherton’s goal was her 15th of the season, making her and Broad the only tandem in Azusa Pacific history to twice score 15 goals each in the same season. With Yoro adding her 11th goal of the season, the Cougars have pushed their team season scoring total to 69, its highest single-season mark since the 2001 squad scored 72. For the first time since 1998, Azusa Pacific also has 3 players with 10 or more goals in a season.
Azusa Pacific moves on to the GSAC Tournament final, where it will host sixth-seeded Concordia on Friday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m. at the Cougar Soccer Complex. The conference’s automatic bid to the NAIA Women’s Soccer Championship will go to the winner of the tournament championship game.
Concordia, which recorded a 2-1 upset over second-seeded California Baptist Friday afternoon in Riverside, led Azusa Pacific by a 3-1 margin in the second half in the teams’ regular season meeting in Irvine. However, led by Brotherton’s first career hat-trick, the Cougars completed the program’s first-ever comeback from a 3-1 deficit to post the 4-3 overtime win on Oct. 21.
“Concordia’s played us as tough as anybody, and I’m sure they’ll be excited to have another shot at us,” said Surrell, whose squad is all but assured of at least an at-large berth to the 31-team national tournament field.
“I was very impressed with them. They know they have to win to get in (to the national tournament), and they’re going to give us their best effort. We look at it as a good challenge, and we’re looking forward to it. Every game we’ve stepped on the field, our focus has been to win the game, and that won’t be any different next week.”
Azusa Pacific improves to 16-2 on the season with the victory, while The Master’s drops to 11-8. Admission prices (per GSAC policy) for the Nov. 14 GSAC Tournament championship are as follows: $8 for adults, $6 for faculty, staff and seniors, $5 for students, while children under 10 are admitted free of charge.