AZUSA, Calif.-- For the first time this season the NAIA’s No. 4 ranked Azusa Pacific was tested by the elements as rain poured down on the team’s semifinal match against The Master’s.
After 90 minutes, and an eventual clear up, the Cougars passed with flying colors as they got two first half goals while outshooting the Mustangs (10-9-1) 20-4 to advance to the GSAC Tournament championship match against No. 5 Point Loma Nazarene.
Azusa Pacific (13-2-1) controlled the entire contest, and despite the fact that the scoreboard read 2-1, the Cougars looked dominant throughout; especially so in the first 45 minutes.
“It was really fun to watch. Everything we worked on in practice we were doing [on the field],” said head coach Jason Surrell about the opening half. “Defensively we were where we needed to be. Offensively we were moving the ball. That’s probably the best, most complete half of soccer [we’ve had].”
The Cougars came out strong, creating two good looks within the first three minutes. Molly Lavin started it off with a shot from the right side of the box, but it landed wide-left before Natalie Sun tried to hook one in from left of the box, 15 yards out but her shot was saved by Ilyssa Espiritu.
Then in the 7th minute freshman defender Logan Chan tried to score, but was blocked. Heidi Witschi then gathered it near the penalty area and placed it right post past the keeper for the first goal of the match in the midst of a downright downpour.
However, the rain subsided in the 27th minute, just before Sun settled a loose ball 10 yards from the goal on the left side. The junior forward then slotted it farpost to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
Azusa Paciic dominated possession through the first 45 minutes as The Master’s rarely got the ball past the midfield line.
“In the first half we did a really good job of controlling and moving the ball. That’s why we were succesful” said Witschi.
In the second half the story continued as the Mustangs had a hard time even connecting passes thanks to a swarming effort from the Cougars. Midway through, corner specialist Natalie Nick crossed a ball into the box where Lynsey Browne was waiting. The 5-10 junior skyed above the crowd, and headed a ball towards the back of the net, but Espiritu was there for one of her four saves.
Moments later a Cougar foul 10 yards out of the box gave The Master’s a glimmer of hope. Shea Richards took the indirect free from the right side and sent it over a leaping Michelle Wieland towards the far post for a goal that shocked nearly everyone in attendance. The goal was only the second one Wieland has given up this season.
But despite a rejuvenated effort by the Mustangs, the Cougars held on for the win, forcing a Friday, November 11th rematch with Point Loma Nazarene; the team that handed Azusa Pacific its first loss this season.
"It's going to be a big rivalry game," said Witschi. "Since we lost to them and and it's at their place we're going to have to come out and play hard."
The Sea Lions beat Azusa Pacific in the GSAC opener 1-0 on October 1.