Isaac Lee, guest writer
After a 15-2 regular season, APU’s women’s soccer team earned the No. 2 seed in the West Region for the NCAA playoffs, earning a bye in the first round.
APU hosted Sonoma State University (SSU) in the second round after the SSU Seawolves advanced with a 1-0 win over Point Loma in the first round.
The Cougars entered the postseason playoffs with many accolades for its players: junior Katelyn Rogers, junior Allyn Brown, sophomore Hayley Patterson and senior Mayra Almazan all earned first team All-PacWest honors. Almazan was also recognized as PacWest Player of the Year.
“Receiving the news about Player of the Year was nice because of the recognition, but it’s more of a team award,” Almazan said. “Our 15-2 record allows for those kind of awards to be earned individually, [but] the only reason I was able to get this award was because of each and every one of my teammates.”
For the Lady Cougars, it’s been a long journey to get to the championship.
“To be able to do something like this is something special, but you give up a lot,” head coach Jason Surrell said. “There’s a lot of sacrifices we all have to make to be part of this team, but we’re all willing to make them and we’re doing it together.”
Freshman midfielder Maizy McCormick pointed to this team as the best group of girls she’s ever played with.
“Everyone’s playing for the same purpose, to glorify God,” McCormick said. “Everyone works their butt off, knowing that they’re playing for something greater than themselves.”
Almazan agreed, saying, “I think it’s amazing that we have already done something that no APU women’s soccer team has done in history. We are in the second round of playoffs and it’s a huge deal. Once playoffs [came] around, every team [had] to turn it up a notch, so I definitely [expected]…just to keep fighting.”
And fight the Cougars did, as they battled against Sonoma State University.
Junior Victoria Kovatch scored the game’s lone goal on a corner kick in the seventh minute. She hip-checked a ball sent onto the back post by Almazan.
Both sides were fairly even in possession, and both generated several good chances to score.
The Cougars were superior in the first half, with Almazan providing good runs across the flanks. Unfortunately, they missed a chance to increase their lead, and in the 29th minute, the Sonoma State goalkeeper saved an effort at the near post.
The Cougars kept their lead, however, and the teams went into halftime with APU leading 1-0.
The second half began with an incredible pace from the Seawolves, who began to dominate possession. The Cougars, however, got back into the game with several offensive maneuvers of their own, and Almazan had a shot saved in the 53rd minute.
The craziness then began: Sonoma State immediately counterattacked and won a free kick. The Seawolves’ effort cleared the wall of Lady Cougars and Seawolves before it, only to be saved phenomenally by APU’s keeper, sophomore Zoey Bauman.
Immediately, the Cougars launched their own counterattack and very nearly scored as an Almazan shot rattled the crossbar.
The match settled down, and some disciplined defending from the Cougars was enough to peter out the majority of SSU’s attacks.
For the most part, APU seemed content to defend its lead in the second half, while looking for opportune moments to counterattack. They received two solid chances, with their midfielders and strikers going wide, but the resulting crosses were cleared. Sonoma State’s goalkeeper was forced to make another save on her near post in the 83rd minute, after the Seawolves’ defense offered a surprising amount of space for the Cougars.
The last five minutes of the match passed without incident, with the Cougars holding out for a deserved win. Other than the free kick and the short-ranged effort following Kovatch’s goal, the Seawolves had made little progress.
“We have a rich history of getting to the playoffs,” Surrell said. “This is our 16th national playoffs appearance. We’re a program that wants to be in these situations and wants to keep proving ourselves.”
With this victory, APU advances to the third round and will play against Western Washington in Bellingham, Wash. on Nov. 19.