Tigers to play for NAIA National Championship; take down Goliath
Author: Wendy Reid
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 10:32 PM
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – The Bermuda grass had been rolled and the NAIA logo had a fresh coat of paint. The sun was shining and the temperatures were hovering around 70 degrees. The No. 12 seeded Olivet Nazarene University women’s soccer team exited the bus knowing they were ready to face the No. 1 Lee University Flames in the semi-finals of the NAIA National Tournament. They had prepared for this, they were ready. Tied at the end of regulations, it took two over-times and a shootout to decide the game, but the Tigers have advanced to the national championship game for the first time in school history. Olivet defeated the four-time defending champions 4-1 in the shootout.
In high-press, attack oriented contest, Olivet Nazarene (19-3-1) took the early lead at the nine-minute mark on Jessica Higer's (Kuna, Idaho) second goal of the championship - ninth of the season. The score was setup by a Kelsey Warp (Lake Arrowhead, Cal.) cross that slipped past the Lee goalkeeper to give Higer an open net. The goal is the first time Lee has surrendered scores in back-to-back championship games since 2008.
Lee (20-1-2) found the equalizer in the 69th minute when Ashley Aragona broke past the Tiger defender a sent a chip far-post for her 10th goal of the season.
After 110 minutes of play, the score was still knotted 1-1. One by one the Tigers calmly stepped up and shot rockets past Lee’s goal keeper Leah Wilson. First senior Katrina Holm (Antioch, Ill.), followed by seniors Devin Johnston (Bloomingdale, Ill.) and Emma Reutter (Mason, Mich.). Senior goal keeper Wendy Espejel (Ontario, Cal.) stood strong in the goal in between each shot facing a Lee attempt; making two amazing saves and allowing just one past. Freshman Betsy Hetrick (Plainfield, Ill.) stepped in a solidified the Tiger’s spot in the championship game with the fourth made attempt.
With over 50 fans in the stands and hundreds watching back in Illinois, the Tigers celebrated yet another historic moment.
"I'm really proud of the girls," said head coach Bill Bahr. "At the beginning of the game I told them it takes one goal to make an impact on a game. We came out hard and got the goal early on. We lit a fire under Lee and had to weather the storm, but I knew if we'd get to PK's (penalty kicks) we could win this game.”
The only other Olivet team to advance to an NAIA National Championship game was the football team in 1998. The Tiger finished 11-3 and earned the programs first ever playoff bid. They defeated No. 1 Hasting College (Neb.) 32-26 and No 3 Sioux Falls (S.D.) 37-34 on the road before returning home to defeat Tri-State University (Ind.) 33-28 to advance to the NAIA National Championship game against Azusa Pacific University. The Tigers scored late in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead into the half. Olivet was shut down by the sloppy weather and strong defense by Azusa and fell 17-14.