AZUSA, Calif. -- Coming into the 2002 season, the NAIA's No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific knew it would live and die by the success of its defensive unit, which returns everybody from last year's fourth straight NAIA final four team.
Today, however, in the Cougars' season-opener, it was the offense that stepped up in a huge way, providing 4 second half goals en route to an impressive 5-1 win over No. 5-ranked Concordia (Ore.).
With the win, the Cougars open the season with a victory for the first time in 4 years. The last time Azusa Pacific won a season opener was in 1998 when they defeated CS San Bernardino, 5-1, on its way to the 1998 NAIA Championship.
After an uninspiring and somewhat lethargic first half that resulted a 1-1 tie at the intermission, Azusa Pacific head coach Jason Surrell adjusted his lineup, moving sophomore All-GSAC Stephanie Bays, who started in the back to the front and returning usual starting defender Heather Hannemann, who started the game up front, to her normal defensive position. That moved sparked an onslaught of Cougar offenses and attacks, while at the same stifled the Concordia attack.
"I started a couple freshmen, which are a key to our game, and I think they were a bit nervous at the outset," said Surrell. "However, in the second half, once they settle down, good things were happening. That second half is how we are going to play all year. That was good stuff."
Hannemann actually put the Cougars on the board first in the 16th minute when sophomore Erin Arbizu set her up with a brilliantly played through ball, setting her up in a 1-on-1 situation in front of the net.
Concordia responded just 4 minutes later when reserve Jennifer Echternach rifled a 10-yard shot past a diving and outstretched Melissa Strother and into the left netting, tying the game until midway through the second half.
Freshman Stephanie Hannemann then gave the Cougars the lead with her first collegiate goal 8 minutes into the second half. Bays then added her first goal of the season 10 minutes later when she dribble across the penalty box to the right side then fired a shot across traffic and into the left net.
"Stephanie (Bays) went up front with some enthusiasm and a good work rate, and that changed things for us," said Surrell. "Putting her up front was a momentum swinger for us."
Arbizu added the Cougars' fourth goal just 5 minutes later when she carried the ball downfield for 35 yards, knifing her way in and out of Cavalier defenders and into the 18-yard box where she created a 1-on-1 situation with her and the goalie. Arbizu buried the ball into the right net for a 4-1 lead. She added her second goal of the game in the waning minutes taking a Stephanie Hannemann cross and one-timing it into the net.
The Cougars outshot the Cavaliers, 20-2, including 14 in the second half. Other than the 1 Concordia goal, Strother and the Cougar defense were never tested.