AZUSA, Calif.-- The NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific needed just a single goal to secure the Golden State Athletic Conference’s automatic bid to the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship, where it will make its 11th straight appearance. The top-seeded Cougars won their fifth consecutive postseason qualifying tournament with Friday’s 1-0 victory over Concordia at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
“We take it year to year,” said Cougar head coach Jason Surrell, who has a 33-8-1 record in postseason play. “It’s a new season, and we won the first conference tournament we’ve had (in a while). But it’s just one of the few steps that we have left to accomplish. It’s a good spot to be in because we’re having success and doing well, but at the same time, we’ve still got work to do.”
Azusa Pacific scored the game’s only goal off its first shot of the game in the 23rd minute. Junior forward Theresa Broad slid past the defender in the left corner to execute an excellent cross to senior forward Bridget Brotherton. The cross found Brotherton at the far post, and she headed the ball into the center of the net for her career-high 16th goal of the season.
“Our greatest strength lies in our scoring threats,” Brotherton said. “It’s not just Theresa but we have our outside forwards. If you take away our outside forward, we have our center midfielders. We have so many ways we can score, and our defense is strong as well.”
After securing the match’s lead, the Cougars made every effort to score the insurance goal to put themselves up 2-0. Ten minutes before halftime, Concordia keeper Jamie Carney came out of the goal box to counter-attack the Cougar offense and Brotherton let a shot fly that went wide left as a result of Carney’s deflection.
Azusa Pacific took a 1-0 lead into halftime off the performance of a defense that has surrendered just 3 goals after halftime all season. The Cougars continued to do exactly what they do best, protecting the lead well, allowing just 2 shots in the second half while pressing forward for 15 shots of its own in the period.
“It’s definitely nice to have an insurance goal,” Brotherton said. “The 2-0 lead in soccer is the most dangerous lead because you’re comfortable with it. With the 1-0 lead, we were extra sharp on defense. Obviously it would be nice to get the insurance goal and spread out and play out a little more, but we did really well with the lead.”
Broad generated a team-high 6 shots in the half and had 2 fine scoring opportunities off breakaways in the final 10 minutes of the match. On the first breakaway, the Concordia keeper made the low block of Broad’s near-post attempt at the top of the penalty box.
The second breakaway occurred with 4 minutes to go when Brotherton flicked junior defender Katie Rorabaugh’s goal kick to midfield forward to Broad. After taking a touch left followed by another back to the right to shake the Eagles defender, Broad fired off a shot that missed just wide to the right by less than 2 yards.
Concordia’s late push for the equalizer put the Azusa Pacific defense on its heels, but with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation, junior defender Tiffany Makinster made one final defensive clearance up the field to clinch the tournament championship for the Cougars.
Brotherton’s early goal provided an early reminder of Azusa Pacific’s come-from-behind win over Concordia in the regular season, when the Cougars came back to win the first game in program history in which it trailed by a 3-1 margin. Brotherton registered her first career hat trick in that contest, providing the game-winning “golden goal” when she headed in a cross from Broad in nearly identical fashion to the first-half header she put away for Friday’s game-winner.
“We are deep and we work so hard,” Broad said. “All of the women who do not see the field are the ones who help us get it done by pushing us at practice. From the first player to the 26th player, everyone is working hard at really pushing each other to the next level.”
Azusa Pacific turns its focus to the upcoming NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship, where the Cougars have advanced to the national title game in 2 straight seasons, only to be denied the NAIA crown by 1-goal defeats in both contests.
“We want to came home with the ring,” junior defender Katie Rorabaugh said. “We lost in the finals the last 2 years and it was such a bummer. I do believe that this is the best group we’ve had. I know our commitment and teamwork will help us get that ring.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific advances its record to 17-2 and Concordia’s season ends at 8-5-5, even though the Eagles made their deepest postseason run in the program’s 12-year history. Azusa Pacific will begin pursuit of the program’s second NAIA championship after earning the Golden State Athletic Conference’s automatic berth to the 31-team field which will be announced on Sunday evening.
The NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Tournament will begin on Saturday, Nov. 22 at a time yet to be determined. The Cougars are all but assured to host 1 of the 15 Opening Round games that will determine the winners who will join host Embry-Riddle (Fla.) Aeronautical University for the final 4 rounds of the tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla.