Nov. 22, 2010

DUBUQUE, IOWA -

Courtesy of Otterbein Athletics

The third-ranked Otterbein University women's soccer team (20-0-3) kept up its flare for the dramatic, playing to a 1-1 tie against Denison University and winning 3-1 on penalty kicks in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Division III women's soccer tournament Sunday afternoon.

The team moves on to play #2 Hardin-Simmons University (TX) on Friday, Dec. 3 in San Antonio, Texas. Tenth-ranked William Smith (NY) and top-ranked and defending national champion Messiah (PA) will square off in the other matchup.

Otterbein, playing without leading scorer Lindsey Rudibaugh, appeared poised from the get-go and earned the first corner of the match. Denison also came out strong, and saw its best chance on a cross into the box that was just out of the reach of Kimmi Oshita.

Otterbein headed a Big Red corner out in the 36th minute, but Oshita was there to send the ball back into the box. Cardinal goalkeeper Tara Carter came off her line, but the ball fell to Denison's Libby Randolph who blew it past Otterbein's Molly Newhouse on the line for the score.

It was only the fourth goal allowed by the Cards this season, and first in over six weeks.

Trailing for the first time all season and without leading scorer Lindsey Rudibaugh, the Cards stormed back instantly when freshman Chelsea DeLay dribbled up the right-hand side less than a minute later and sent a skidding ball up the baseline and into the box. Sophomore Sara Wolfe went into a challenge with the Big Red goalkeeper, only to see the ball pop out and find an incoming Rachel Denz near the top of the box. Denz would sneak a shot inside the left post to even the contest at 1-1.

"I thought going down just 44 seconds later and scoring really brought the momentum back to our side," said Head Coach Brandon Koons. "We had only allowed three goals all season to that point, so Denison had to feel really great after getting one in. Answering back quickly was just huge."

Otterbein almost took the lead in the opening minutes of the second half when Adrienne Novak won a ball in the box and fed it to Cristen Herold, but the senior midfielder would see her shot sail just high enough to bounce off the crossbar.

The Cards continued to move forward when possible, and sophomore Molly Kroger saw a shot from 15 yards away go wide left in the 71st minute.

Denison held possession for a few minutes down in the Otterbein end towards the end of regulation, but the Cardinal defense stood strong.

Otterbein came right back with a through ball to Alyssa Hale, but Big Red keeper Andrea Karl charged out to corral the ball just in time.

The Cards saw the best opportunity since the first half when Novak slipped Hale a pass up the middle in overtime, but Hale's shot on the ground deflected off the left post and out of bounds.

Otterbein drew a corner minutes into the second overtime, and senior Tara Smith nearly ended the match with a header attempt off the cross bar.

Carter stepped into the spotlight once again, embracing the moment and stopping the first two Denison penalty kicks. DeLay and Knox gave the Cards a 2-0 lead, and Vasbinder put Otterbein ahead 3-1 after making her attempt. The ensuing Big Red kick would sail over the crossbar, helping send the Cardinals to the Final Four.

"A lot of times, with our team defending so well, I don't really get that involved and don't have to do much in some matches," said Carter. "To be able to step up and be one of the difference makers in another shootout was the perfect script for me. I can't even believe it's happened."

Otterbein held an 8-5 shot advantage while both teams took two corner kicks. Both goalkeepers also came up with two saves each.

Head Coach Brandon Koons decided to use a variety of players up top in his formation in attempt fill the void left by Rudibaugh, who received two yellow cards against Loras in the Sweet 16 and as a result was forced to serve a one-match suspension.

"We were playing a team that didn't substitute a whole lot, so we went in with the mindset of using a rotation of players, hoping to wear them down a bit," he said. "Every player stepped up to the challenge."

"Losing just hasn't been an option for these girls, and specifically these seniors," Koons continued. "We're going to enjoy this because it's a great achievement for these ladies and this program, but we're not done yet."