Costa Mesa, Calif. – It took a bit longer than usual for No. 2 Vanguard to warm up in its NAIA National Championship Opening Round match against Embry Riddle Aeronautical (Ariz.) but once the Lions heated up, they proved difficult to contain as three different players posted goals and the efficient Vanguard defense managed its 14th shutout in 19 games. The Pride's 3-0 victory over the Eagles ensures third-seeded Vanguard a trip to the final site of the 2012 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship in Orange Beach, Alabama.
"Today's win was a team victory," senior Lindsey Holman-Kelley (La Jolla, Calif.) said. "I am so happy to have played my last home game at Vanguard with my best friends by my side. We have what it takes to win in Alabama. Each girl on our team has the individual qualities that we need to be successful and we are looking forward to leaving it all on the field at nationals!"
After 36 scoreless minutes, freshman Ashley McCutcheon (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) put the Blue and Gold on the board with a shot from six yards out that found the back left corner. The ball trickled through several players before she tracked it down to give Vanguard a 1-0 edge.
McCutcheon, who primarily plays defense, has five goals in her first year with the Lions.
Not 20 minutes later, a pair of seniors teamed up as Rachel Rucireta (Yorba Linda, Calif.) fed Holman-Kelley a great ball up the middle which she put past Embry-Riddle's Brenna Quinn (Peoria, Ariz.) at the 55:41 mark.
Vanguard's final goal belonged to junior Kayla Arenas (Fullerton, Calif.), who has registered 11 in 2012. Arenas intercepted a ball meant for the Embry-Riddle keeper which had been passed back by a defender and swiftly tapped the ball into an open Eagles' net.
The Lions improvd to 17-2 overall on Saturday and sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Terry collected her 14th win and 8th shutout of the season with the win.
"It just feels so surreal to be a part of a team that not only has been getting so close off the field but is progressing forward in every game we play," Terry said. "I think we are only getting stronger. God has truly blessed us all with this great talent to play individually but if it weren't for us coming together as one, we wouldn't be doing as well as we have been. I can't wait to travel with the team and see what happens next!"
Senior defender Lauren Evans (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) returned to the field after being absent for two matches and made the most of her opportunity to play on the Vanguard Soccer Field one final time.
"We did a great job fighting through the pressure of this being our last home game," Evans said. "Every game our goal is to have no regrets and this game was no different. We have worked so hard to get to the point where we are at and we are determined to not let anything ruin it."
The 2012 squad has won a record-breaking 13 straight matches. Their 17 total wins are more than any women's soccer team in the program's history have managed in a single season.
"This was a tough game and the girls persevered through a long week," Director of Soccer Randy Dodge said. "We reached our primary goal for the year and we are going to Alabama. We have unfinished business to attend to there!"
No. 3-seeded Vanguard's first national tournament match will take place Tuesday, November 27th at 1:30 p.m. EST. The Lions will face Baker (Kan.) (13-6-1) in the second round. For more information on the NAIA Championships check out naia.org.