AZUSA, Calif.-- Maybe they’re just too young to know any better, or maybe they’re just that good. Either way the Azusa Pacific women’s soccer team enacted a small measure of revenge in a 2-1 season opening victory over Lee (Tenn.) on Thursday night.
After a brief 1-0 hole the Cougars got first half goals from sophomore Mayra Almazan and freshman Katelyn Rogers before holding on for a victory over a Flames team that knocked Azusa Pacific out of the NAIA playoffs in the semifinals of the 2010 and 2011 national championship tournaments. Not bad for a team the fielded seven true freshmen, and had six of its 11 starters playing in their first-ever match with the program.
“There are certainly a lot of unknowns from an experience standpoint. The talent’s there, but it’s just getting accustomed to the level and our style of play. They didn’t panic, and showed some poise after going down early. I was pleased with the way we continued to fight,” said head coach Jason Surrell. “When they were in the NAIA no other team had as much success as they’ve had. They have such a great program and you have to bring your best to have a chance to beat them.”
Lee won four consecutive national championships from 2008-2011, and in its first season as a member of an NCAA Division II conference registered a perfect record (11-0) in the Gulf South Conference.
The Flames scored their lone goal on a PK in the 15th minute after an Azusa Pacific player was called for pulling down Ode Fulutudilu in the box. But the young Cougars rallied behind a standout defensive performance from Courtney Camden, impressive work from Sarah Klinkenberg in goal, and Almazan’s game-changing offense midway through the opening half.
In the 28th minute Almazan, a sophomore transfer out of UC Santa Barbara, received a pass on the right side, made two quick moves to create space, and jettisoned a left-footed strike over the keeper’s head from the top of the box to give the Cougars the equalizer. Then less than a minute later she served up a perfect pass to Rogers, who headed in the game-winner from the left side.
“Mayra had a great night for us. I joked with her before the match that she couldn’t go to her Costa Rican national team tryout if she didn’t score. Maybe I’ll just have to keep challenging her if that’s how she’ll respond. But in all seriousness we know her ability. She can be dangerous, and she showed that tonight. She can make things happen. Her goal was fantastic, but the ball she played to Katelyn was absolutely perfect,” said Surrell.
Alamazan, who played high school soccer for Cougar assistant Scott Mocabee, was just happy to have the opportunity.
“It was awesome. I love everything about Azusa Pacific. I love the coaches, the school, my teammates, everything. I thought everyone on the team played well. Sarah came up with some huge saves for us, and Katelyn finished a great header. It was just a great first night,” said Almazan.
Lee outshot Azusa Pacific 16-12, and put nine shots on goal compared to just six for the Cougars, although none of the Flames’ attempts came from their All-American senior forward Fulutudilu. Camden, a true freshman out of Colorado, held Lee’s leading scorer in check in her first collegiate match, while Kilinkenberg quieted the rest of the Flames’ attack.
“All of the freshmen stepped up and played well. You have to tip your hat to Courtney, she was going against an All-American and was fantastic. She couldn’t have done a better job,” said Surrell. “We didn’t give up a goal in the run of play, and I’m real happy about that. We had some spots where I thought we let up a little bit, but overall I thought we played really well. Whenever you have so many new players you wonder how they’ll al mesh, and tonight I definitely liked what I saw.”
Kilinkenberg, one of five true freshmen to start, tallied eight saves, and the only goal she gave up came on a PK. The win was the Cougars’ sixth in eight regular season meetings over the Flames, who were maing their first-ever trip to Azusa Pacific.
The Cougars will return to action on Saturday night as part of a men’s and women’s doubleheader against Cal State Dominguez Hills, beginning at 5 p.m. Azusa Pacific fell to the Toros 2-1 (OT) in last year’s meeting.