The Cougars needed 2 of 3 teams to win their regions. Just prior to the Cougars’ loss, Union (Ky.) won its regional title to lock up an automatic bid, and then late Saturday night, the final piece of the puzzle was set when No. 2-ranked and NAIA Tournament host Lindenwood (Mo.) defeated Missouri Baptist, 2-0 in the NAIA Region V Final.
As a result, Azusa Pacific, ranked No. 3 in the NAIA, secured one of the 2 at-large berths into the 16-team field and will be making its fifth straight NAIA Tournament appearance. The Cougars become one of just 3 schools to qualify for each of the past 5 tournaments.
The fifth-seeded Cougars open play Friday (Nov. 22) at 3 p.m. (PST) when they face 12th-seeded Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona Beach, Fla., which won the Region XIV tournament over the weekend. Embry-Riddle, champions of the Florida Sun Conference, is 17-3-1. In just their fifth year as a program, the Eagles are making their second straight NAIA Tournament appearance. Last year, ERAU lost in the first round to Berry (Ga.), 3-1.
This is the first-ever meeting between Azusa Pacific and Embry-Riddle. This is the Cougars second meeting with a team from the Florida Sun Conference. The Cougars defeated Palm Beach Atlantic (Fla.), 4-0, in the 2000 NAIA Tournament.
Azusa Pacific, which won its third straight Golden State Athletic Conference title this year, is 13-3 and is looking for its fifth straight NAIA Final Four berth. The Cougars are the only team in the NAIA to advance to the Final Four in each of the past 4 seasons.
Since 1998, Azusa Pacific is 9-2-2 at the NAIA Tournament. Last year as the second-seed, the Cougars advanced to the semifinals with a 5-1 win over Indiana Wesleyan and a 3-0 win over Belhaven (Miss.). In the semis, the Cougars fell to Oklahoma City in a penalty kick shootout.
Azusa Pacific has never lost its opening match at any of the past 4 NAIA Tournaments. In fact, in tournament opening matches, the Cougars have outscored their opponents 17-1. The Cougars have been equally tough in the second round as well. In the past 2 quarterfinals (the 1998 and 1999 tournaments had pool play followed by the semifinals), the Cougars have outscored their opponents 7-0.
Under 3-time GSAC Coach of the Year Jason Surrell, who is just in his third season at the helm, the Cougars are an impressive 49-7-4.
The 2002 NAIA Women’s Soccer Tournament is hosted by Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. It is a 16-team, single-elimination format that runs Nov. 21-26.