Isaac Lee, guest writer
A narrow 1-0 defeat to the second-ranked Western Washington Vikings ended the women’s soccer season, however their stunning efforts will not be easily forgotten.
Throughout this season, the Cougars scored 37 goals, through 19 matches, with 12 clean sheets. As these statistics demonstrate, the Cougars dominated this season.
The Cougars’ season began perfectly, with the team recording wins over Stanislaus State and Cal State East Bay, despite playing both matches within the span of three days, conceding no goals in either. It took five matches for the Cougars to concede a single goal, in their 2-1 exhibition match win over Westmont.
Head coach Jason Surrell admitted that having early success is what got the Cougars to the No. 2 seed in regionals.
“It was a big step for us, just in the belief process that we can do it at this level,” Surrell said.
While the defense was solid, the Cougars had no shortage of attacking options, with senior midfielder and PacWest Player of the Year Mayra Almazan providing runs either in the left wing or central midfield. Junior forward Katelyn Rogers scored 11 goals from the wings. Together they formed a formidable strike partnership with a combined 17 goals and 8 assists.
The depth of the squad was phenomenal, and the team was fortunate to have two talented goalkeepers, sophomore Zoey Bauman and junior Sarah Klinkenberg, whom they rotated throughout the season.
The Cougars demonstrated the mental strength to bounce back after their first losses of the season, a 1-0 defeat to Point Loma, which was followed by a 2-1 overtime loss to Concordia.
“I think the Concordia game was the tough one because I felt like we were still the better team…we had more of the shots…more control…[so] to lose that one was tough,” Surrell said.
At that point, Coach Surrell admitted, the season hung in the balance. If the Cougars lost any more matches, it was unlikely they would qualify for the postseason NCAA tournament.
“The girls really put their mind[s] to it,” Surrell said. “The training got better, the intensity was better, the focus was better.”
With their backs against the wall, the Cougars went on to complete an impressive 11-game winning streak. In their following three matches, they scored six goals, while conceding zero. A 2-1 victory over Fresno Pacific and an exciting 3-2 overtime win over Notre Dame de Namur followed.
The Cougars were finding their form at exactly the right time. But while their performances were solid, it was nothing compared to their next four matches. They overwhelmed their opponents by scores of 2-0 and 3-0 margins (twice), before completely dominating Holy Names’ squad with a score of 6-1.
A 1-0 win over Dominican in San Rafael qualified the team to the NCAA 2nd round against Sonoma State. From the beginning, APU dominated the proceedings, as the Cougars defense did not allow any opportunities for the Sonoma State attack.
This was the first time the Cougars qualified for the NCAA tournament.
“The most memorable moment [of the season] was when the whistle blew to end the game against Sonoma, and we were the first PacWest team to ever win a second-round game…I felt like [we] won the national championship,” sophomore defender Hayley Patterson said.
Their match against Western Washington demonstrated their mental strength and developed potential in physicality and skill. Playing away in unfamiliar conditions and without prior experience in advanced NCAA fixtures, the Cougars more than held their own against one of the best teams of the region. They blocked three chances and prevented all but one goal thanks to Klinkenberg’s four saves.
“The Western Washington game was tough. The conditions were obviously not what we were used to, but they are a great team. I am proud of how the girls came out and fought the whole time…it’s sad that the season has come to an end, but we had a great season and went farther than any APU women’s soccer team or PacWest team has gone in a D2 Playoff run,” Almazan wrote in an Instagram post.
Junior defender Lindsey Ryals added, “I’ve never met a group of girls that were as amazing as my teammates. The way we rally around each other in tough times or in joyous moments just keeps me in awe of what God can do and how He’s picked each and every one of us for a reason.”
Make no mistake, this team was impressively good. With only a handful of players graduating this year, the Cougars will look to maintain their success into next season.