Senior defender Natalie Nick, who received third team all-conference honors, looks to work with the rest of the back four and return to their original form, shutting teams out like they did against Cal Baptist on Saturday, Nov. 2.
Courtesy: Holly Magnuson

The team that snapped the Azusa Pacific women’s soccer’s 21-match conference unbeaten streak in the final game of the season on Saturday, Nov. 9 proceeded to produce the same result come playoff time.

After losing 2-0 in the NCCAA West Region final against Point Loma Wednesday, Nov. 20, the season looked over for the Cougars. But on Sunday, Nov. 24, they received an at-large berth to the NCCAA national championship tournament. They were the No. 5 overall seed entering Tuesday, Dec. 3.

Being shutout in the West Region final match was uncharacteristic for a Cougar team that outscored their opponents 32-6 during the regular season. They allowed the least amount of goals all year, proving to be the best defense in the conference. Ten of the Cougars’ 12 total wins were shutouts.

The playoff match against Point Loma was disappointing for the Cougars. Senior defender Danielle Ross called the loss “heartbreaking.”

“It was very uncharacteristic of our team to not score. We had several shots on goal and we had goals that were called back,” Ross said. “We were just very unlucky. We can fix that for the next games by being focused on finishing in our training and in games, making sure we capitalize on our opportunities.”

Ross and sophomore midfielder Mayra Almazan are both thankful for a second chance in the playoffs. Ross said they are ready to work hard and not take the second chance for granted.

“It feels great to have a second chance now and we are hungry to take advantage of this second chance,” Ross said. “We look forward to hopefully playing Point Loma again in the semis or finals.”

Almazan said the loss against Point Loma was a good lesson for the team.

“It’s kind of a reality check,” Almazan said. “We can’t go in confident thinking this is going to be a piece of cake. There’s things we got to fix up for nationals and I think we have [done that].”

Along with earning a spot on the all-conference first team, Almazan won the PacWest Newcomer of the Year award. She transferred to Azusa Pacific from UC Santa Barbara and led the team in points with 19, scoring eight goals and dealing three assists. Taking the role of the team’s leading scorer was not natural for Almazan; she is actually used to being the distributor.

“I’ve never been a player to score many goals. I’m usually doing the pass to goal and I’ve always been fine with that,” Almazan said. “This year I feel like I have had just a lot of opportunities to score. But that’s all besides the point. I can’t do it without my teammates.”

The six other players who received all-conference honors were big pieces of the conference champion team. Almazan credits the team chemistry for all the awards won this year, looking to take these accomplishments and teamwork into the tournament on Tuesday.

“It’s really about how close the team has been able to come together so quickly and the girls who were here last year have made that one of their priorities to make everyone feel comfortable,” Almazan said.

Focusing only on the NCCAA national championship tournament, Ross said their goal is to not look too far ahead and focus on the games one at a time.

“You really can’t think about the championship game until you get there,” Ross said. “We are focused and mentally ready to defeat each team we will play.”

Knowing this will be her final week with the team, Ross says she is extremely thankful for the opportunity God has given her to play soccer with Azusa Pacific.

“It’s more than just soccer,” Ross said. “God works in each of the girls lives in a unique way and he has been working in my life for sure. It’s a blessing to have a second chance to win a national title with this team.”

The national championship tournament, to be held at the Austin-Tindall Regional Park in Kissimmee, Fla., will focus on pool play. The Cougars were placed in Pool B along with No. 8 Houghton, who they faced on Tuesday, and No. 2 Trinity Christian, who they will face Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. EST. The semifinals will take place on Friday, Dec. 6, which will include three pool winners and one wild card spot.