DECATUR, Ala.-- It was a typical NAIA tournament game for the Azusa Pacific women’s soccer team. The conditions were terrible, the rain was heavy, and the result was a win.
The Cougars used a Lynsey Browne PK, a Natalie Sun goal, and another Michelle Wieland shutout to advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 defeat of the 15th seeded Hastings (Neb.) on Monday afternoon.
“It’s not what you’re used to during the season,” said Head Coach Jason Surrell about the rain and muddy field. “But this group doesn’t care where they’re playing, they just want to go out and play.”
And senior captain Brittany Flanagan was the catalyst. No stranger to the Decatur dirt, Flanagan set the tone and created the team’s first goal after being fouled while dribbling in the box in the 42nd minute.
“I thought Brittany was the best player on the field today,” said Surrell. “She’s got that extra gear, and in those conditions she makes it difficult for them.”
Prior to Flanagan’s game-changing play, the Cougars had plenty of decent opportunities, considering the conditions. In the first 30 minutes Azusa Pacific (15-2-2) dominated possession, and earned six corner kicks. But despite multiple good services by Natalie Nick the Cougars couldn’t convert. Around the 30-minute mark the Broncos began to steal momentum as they controlled the ball over the next 10 minutes.
Then after finally getting the ball past the midfield line the Cougars found Flanagan on the left side of the box. The senior took it from there snd purposefully dribbled into the box before two Broncos knocked her down, forcing the refs to call a foul that resulted in a PK.
“Honestly I just put my head down and started running,” said Flanagan about the play. “I don’t even know who got me but I’m glad they did.”
Then, without their usual lineup in the Cougars called on Browne, who reluctantly took the ball.
“I wasn’t expecting to be called out,” said Browne. “It wasn’t until I got the ball from the ref that I knew I needed to take it upon myself.”
With the keeper cheating left, Browne went rightside for the first goal of the match in the 42nd minute to give Azusa Pacific a 1-0 lead at halftime.
The Cougars outshot Hastings (19-3-1) just 6-4 in the opening 45 minutes, but earned eight corners to the Broncos’ 1.
In the second half the Cougars nearly gave up a couple cheap goals early on as the mud caused their defenders to slip on back-to-back possessions. But Wieland saved the one shot she faced, while the other attempts were off the mark.
In the 64th minute, Nick, who was busy all day, sent a ball near the 18. Allie Stone got a touch on it before Sun scored right post from 10 yards out to give Azusa Pacific a commanding lead. From there Danielle Ross, Nick, and the rest of the backline turned away every chance as the Cougars nabbed their 14th shutout this season.
“Our team defending has to be very good from top to bottom and today it was,” said Surrell.
And the team, which isn’t necessarily built for the mud seemed to adjust rather quickly.
“Coach said we adapted well with the field, and I think that comes with experience,” said Sun. “A lot of us have been here before. We know what it’s like to play in the mud and the cold.”
With the win Azusa Pacific will take on the winner of Tuesday’s Graceland (Iowa)/Mobile (Ala.) match. Wednesday’s contest is set for 1:30 p.m. (CST).