Women’s soccer rebuilds defense, finishes third in PacWest

Azusa Pacific women’s soccer experienced its worst season start (0-4) under the direction of head coach Jason Surrell, who took the helm of the program in 2000.

While three of the four losses were to teams who appeared in the 2013 Division II Women’s Soccer Tournament, things looked dim for the defending PacWest champions. Senior forward Amanda Hardy described the losses as “ego-rattling.”

The team went on from its rough start to take two wins against Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State LA before beginning conference play.

After dropping the first two conference games to the eventual 2014 PacWest Champions Point Loma and Hawaii Pacific and settling for a double-overtime draw against Hawaii Hilo, the Cougars went on to win eight of the nine remaining games. The team ended the season 10-7-1 overall and tied for third in the PacWest at 8-3-1.

“It would have been so easy to fall and cave into the losses,” Amanda Hardy said. “We’ve been a part of an amazing program that has really only known success, so it was definitely a weird position to be in.”

Between graduating four-year defenders Danielle Ross, Natalie Nick and Allie Stone last season and unexpected injuries, the Cougars were forced to find a new, workable defensive line. Players were asked to move positions to accommodate the changes. For example, sophomore Lindsay Ryals played the previous season as a forward and senior Logan Chan transitioned into the center back position.

“This year we didn’t have that maturity in the beginning. This season became a rebuilding year of the defense,” Amanda Hardy said. “As an offensive group, we didn’t make it any easier on them by not scoring and giving them a cushion.”

The Cougars did not find the back of the net until the fourth game into the season.

“It was huge to be mentally in the game for 90 minutes,” said senior forward Shannon Hardy. “A lot of why it was so frustrating for us at the beginning of the season was that we would look at the stats and we would be outshooting the other teams, getting more corners, out-possessing them – but it would come down to one person not finishing.”

The Cougars began to find their rhythm up front as the year progressed, outscoring their opponents 25-12 and leading the conference second in shots taken, averaging 7.22 shots on goal per game. Almost simultaneously, the defensive line began to strengthen and went on to record 10 shutouts, allowing just one goal in its final 10 games.

This season the Cougars graduate four seniors: Amanda Hardy, Shannon Hardy, Alyx Williams and Chan.

While Williams and the Hardy sisters did make significant offensive contributions, collectively accounting for eight of the team’s 25 season goals, the Cougars do expect to return offensive weapons junior Mayra Almazan and sophomore Katelyn Rogers up front.

Almazan, who received PacWest first-team and West Region second-team honors, led the Cougar offense with seven goals and four assists. The junior was also first in shots and shots per game in conference with 74 total. Rogers was second on the team in goals with five.

Chan, a PacWest first-team selection, led the defense to its shutouts and the second-best goals-against average in the conference. While the back line will lose one of its most valuable assets, the defense is expected to return sophomore Haley Arft and freshman Hayley Patterson, who started 14 of the 18 games this season. Patterson also received PacWest honorable mention.

The Cougars are also expected to return goalkeeper Zoey Bauman to the net. The freshman recorded a 0.12 goals-against average in her nine games and eight starts.