CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Sophomore midfielder Emily Wood’s putback of a tipped shot off the crossbar snapped a scoreless first half tie, providing the spark that lifted the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 2-1 win over No. 10-ranked William Carey (Miss.) Thursday at the Lee (Tenn.) Lady Flames Classic.
The classic, which this year features 4 programs ranked in the NAIA’s top 10, provides Azusa Pacific the opportunity to avenge 2 of its 3 regular-season defeats from the 2009 season with matchups against William Carey and No. 3-ranked Lee (Tenn.) University. The Cougars lost their 2009 season-opener to Lee, as well as a neutral-site clash with William Carey in Mobile, Ala., both by scores of 1-0.
“You need to get some challenges under your belt in non-conference play because the conference we play in is so difficult,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said.
In Thursday’s classic opener, Azusa Pacific faced a defensive-minded Crusader side that conceded a 27-8 total shots advantage, and it was a defensive stop that actually set up the Cougars’ first score. With less than 5 minutes to play in the first half, sophomore forward Heidi Witschi took a shot that was tip-saved into the crossbar by William Carey goalkeeper Jackie DeNova, who tallied 17 saves in last year’s shutout of Azusa Pacific. Witschi came off the bench and took 5 shots in the game, including the shot on goal that led to Wood’s score.
“This was the best game of Heidi’s career,” Surrell said. “She brought a big spark off the bench, and she was a big difference in our win today.”
One of the Cougars’ 8 corner kicks led to an important insurance goal in the 80th minute. Sophomore defender Molly Lavin emerged from a crowd in front of the net to head Brittany Flanagan’s cross from the corner flag into the net past DeNova. The goal pushed the lead to 2-0, and it became the game-winner when just 90 seconds later Gemma Metcalfe used a bicycle kick for an 81st-minute score that cut the margin to 2-1.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but some of that was probably due to the formation they played with 5 in the back, 3 in the midfield, and 2 players up top,” Surrell said. “We expected them to keep it compact and get numbers behind the ball, so we were prepared for it. I think the frustrating thing was just falling asleep and giving up the goal.”
The goal was Lavin’s first of the season, extending a stretch over Azusa Pacific’s past 4 games in which the last 6 players with goals in those games have registered their first goals of the year. The balanced Azusa Pacific attack now features 9 different scorers, with forwards Jennie Cress and Laura Feehs sharing the team scoring lead with 3 goals each.
Sophomore goalkeeper Michelle Wieland stopped William Carey’s only shot on goal prior to the final 10 minutes of the game, a first-half strike from Natalia Nino.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 4-0-1 overall, while William Carey’s first setback of the year drops the Crusaders to 4-1-2 on the season. Saturday’s action starts with a matchup between No. 10 William Carey and No. 4 Indiana Wesleyan, which will be followed by the Classic’s showcase contest between No. 2 Azusa Pacific and tournament host Lee University, the 2-time defending national champion that is currently ranked No. 3 in the NAIA.
“I feel like our athleticism is similar to Lee’s, so it should be a really good game Saturday,” Surrell said. “I’m excited to see how we play against them, because they have set the standard the last 2 years.”