DECATUR, Ala. -- For the second straight game, the Azusa Pacific women’s soccer team played through one of the sport’s greatest equalizers, a nearly-unplayable field, yet the fourth-seeded Cougars responded with a first-half score and spent the remainder of the game protecting its lead for a 1-0 win over 12th-seeded Graceland (Iowa) University to clinch a spot in the semifinals of the 26th Annual NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship.
Azusa Pacific rallied to win its first game at the championship’s final site, the Jack Allen Recreation Complex in Decatur, Ala., but Rorabaugh’s 40-yard free kick gave the Cougars a first-half lead with less than 5 minutes to play before halftime. With the opportunity to set up an open long-range look from the left side, Rorabaugh played the free kick to the far post, where it bounced in the box off a standing puddle of water and skipped in front of freshman midfielder Molly Lavin, and past Graceland goalkeeper Leslie Danner, for what turned out to be the game-winner.
The victory sends 17-3-1 Azusa Pacific to its eighth semifinals appearance during its streak of 12 straight NAIA Tournaments. The Cougars will play unseeded Point Loma Nazarene, which improved to 15-4-3 on the year with a 2-0 stunner that eliminated the tournament’s top-seed Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), in a 3 p.m. (Central) matchup Friday afternoon.
“Nothing seems to faze this team,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said. “We have been down a goal and kept playing our game, and today we were up by a goal and just kept playing. I continue to be impressed by how mentally tough this team is.”
The teams match up for the second time in a postseason semifinals this year after Point Loma Nazarene won a penalty shootout in the GSAC Postseason Tournament semifinals Nov. 6 to advance to the conference tournament championship game.
The weather is projected to improve in time for Friday’s semifinal contests, following a 3-day stretch in which the main field of the Jack Allen Recreation Complex took on almost 2 inches of rain. As a result, Wednesday’s quarterfinal games were moved to a side field at the complex to allow for consecutive off-days for the main field. No rain is currently being forecast in the area through the weekend, with the current forecast for Friday projecting mostly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 49 degrees with 20 percent chance of precipitation.
“That has to be the most water I’ve seen on a field in coaching, and it clearly affected play,” Surrell said. “You couldn’t even try to pass the ball. It was definitely not soccer today, but I thought we adjusted to the conditions a little better than Graceland did.”
Graceland managed just 2 total shots in defeat, putting neither on goal, as Rorabaugh and the rest of the defense protected the box for Azusa Pacific’s 12th shutout of the season. The Cougars topped their 6-shot first-half total with 7 more after the break, including a Rorabaugh penalty kick saved by Danner with about 5 minutes to play in regulation.
Danner finished with 9 saves, but couldn’t do much to help Graceland’s hopes of an equalizer in the closing minutes as the Cougars took valuable seconds off the clock by wisely controlling possession near the corner flags instead of taking shots at the Graceland goal.
Rorabaugh took 5 of the Cougars’ 13 shots, and the unassisted 41st-minute score was her fifth goal of the year. Senior forward Theresa Broad, who scored in each of Azusa Pacific’s Opening and second-round national tournament wins, put both of her shots on goal, and junior forward Kelsey Walker provided an offensive spark off the bench with 3 shots (1 on goal).
COACH SURRELL ON TWITTER: Azusa Pacific head coach Jason Surrell is now on Twitter, offering real-time updates of the Cougars’ 12th straight trip to the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship. Catch Coach Surrell’s “tweets” at twitter.com/Soccer73.