PORTLAND, Ore.- Azusa Pacific and Lee (Tenn.) are very familiar with each other. The teams have met six times in the last five years, with each team posting three wins in that span. The Lady Flames, however, hold the tiebreaker after bouncing the Cougars in the semifinals of the NAIA tournament en route to the program’s third straight national title.
On Saturday, Azusa Pacific may not have evened the score, but the Cougar’s 2-1 win sure felt good.
“We’re going to enjoy it…I think you need to celebrate every win,” said Head Coach Jason Surrell. “They’ve been the standard, [so] it lets you know early on where you stand.”
The teams proceeded to trade possessions until junior forward Natalie Sun nearly gave the Cougars a 2-0 advantage, but her shot in the 30th minute was saved by Lee’s Leah Wilson.
“She finds herself in the right spot often,” said Surrell about his first-year forward. “I don’t know if you ever expect a freshman to contribute this much this early.”
Hardy’s score gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead at the half after Azusa Pacific outshot the Lady Flames 8-4 and had 6 corners compared to just one.
“I thought our first half was really solid, the girls were very active,” said Surrell. Girls were very active. We played very smart today.
In the second half the Cougars held Lee scoreless until the 89th minute as Kim Conrad’s header from 10 yards out went into the right corner and cut Azusa Pacific’s lead in half. The score, which came off a long cross from Ashley Aragona, gave Lee new life, although less than two minutes remained. The Lady Flames got off one final desperation shot with 12 seconds left, but Jamie Achten’s shot landed wide right.
The Cougar defense slowed the opposing attack all match, helping goalkeeper Alexa Douglas to four saves on 17 shots.
“Defense is certainly a strength of ours,” said Surrell. “Our midfield was great. They stopped their offense from getting going.”
The Cougars will have one week off until their home opener where they welcome Rocky Mountain (Mont.) to the Cougar Soccer Complex. The game will begin at 11:30 a.m.