COSTA MESA, Calif. - No. 12 Vanguard hosted Columbia (Mo.) (RV) at the VU Soccer Field on Saturday in the NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship Opening Round. A single goal and a series of penalty kicks bought the Lions' ticket to the dance despite a 1-1 tie after regulation and two overtime periods. The Pride (15-4-1) advanced on the shoot-out 4-3 to eliminate the Cougars (16-2-2) from the tournament.
Senior Kayla Arenas' (Fullerton, Calif.) 15th goal of 2013 broke Saturday's deadlock in the 20th minute to put the Lions out front 1-0 over the Cougars. Sophomore Liliana Ruiz (Madera, Calif.) and junior Jennifer Martin (La Mirada, Calif.) created the opportunity for Arenas, as Ruiz sent a ball over the top from the midfield, which Martin quick-tapped to Arenas who somehow put the ball into the back of the net off of a high bounce.
"Before the game I spent some time mentally preparing," Arenas said. "I told myself that I needed to finish every chance that I had in this game, because there is no space for me not to capitalize on opportunities moving forward. The next game that we lose will be the last of my career and I don't want to go out on a loss. I am committed to making the most of the looks that I get. When I got the ball, I thought, this might be the only chance that my team gets today. The ball took a strange bounce, but I went for it because I didn't know if we would get another try."
Columbia fired off a pair of close tries in the latter half of the first but could not connect as a laser from Stephanie Hale (Murrieta, Calif.) hit the crossbar and MacKenzie Knepper's (Swansea, Ill.) fancy one-touch went just wide right of the net.
Martin gave Vanguard a great look at the 37:53, finding Ruiz unguarded in the middle of the box on a cross, but the shot went straight to the Cougar's keeper, Erica Ramirez (Fairfield, Calif.).
The Blue and Gold recorded six shots on goal through 45 minutes and held the Cougars to two on-target attempts.
Vanguard controlled the tempo and the ball for much of the second, firing off 10 shots compared Columbia's 1.
At the 70:57 mark, however, a quick turn of events and a spurt of energy from the Cougars evened the score as Hale put one past Vanguard goalkeeper Lauren Terry (Corona, Calif.) off of a double-assist from Tori Magaletta (St. Louis, Mo.) and Rylee Bruhn (Beatrice, Neb.).
The match-tying goal, off of Columbia's only shot of the period, was the last shot taken in the final 20 minutes of the contest.
Each squad had one attempt in the first overtime. In the second overtime, Vanguard once again looked like the stronger team, keeping the ball on its end of the field for nearly ten minutes. The Lions took four shots, but none were meant to be as the competition ended in a tie.
The Pride won the shootout 4-3 to advance in the national tournament on high pressure makes from Martin, sophomore Asia Kleinmeyer (Mission Viejo, Calif.), sophomore Ashley McCutcheon (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) and Ruiz, in that order. Terry was incredible in goal, coming up with a clutch save on CC's Mallory Page after VU's third try was stopped by the Cougar's Ramirez. Columbia missed two more down the stretch, one off of the post and one high, to ensure the Lions' trip to Alabama.
"We really connected well and played as a unit today," Terry said. "I am so incredibly proud of the girls and their ability to consistently fight through 110 minutes of playing time. The girls really showed what it takes to pull out a solid win all the way to the last PK that we made. God has really blessed us with the ability to play this sport and I am so thankful to be share this experience with such an amazing group of girls."
Despite ranking number one in total goals scored (105) and goals per game (5.5), the Cougars were held to single score by the tenacious Lions' defense in the affair.
Terry managed four saves in the tie.
Vanguard will travel to the final site of the 2013 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championships in Orange Beach, Ala. The Lions will face Robert Morris University (Ill.) on December 3rd at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. No. 20 RMU (14-4-1) upset No. 11 Spring Arbor in the opening round, 3-1, to move to the final site.
"This is so exciting, I am so grateful that I get to go back to the tournament one more time," Arenas said. "I love my team and we have so much fun together."