Dec. 5, 2009

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Sidebar: Grand Valley Seniors Know Success

By Carl Kotala
Special to NCAA.com
 
TAMPA, Fla. -
Ashley Botts jogged onto the pitch, her sprained right ankle noticeable in her step.
 
The Grand Valley State freshman midfielder trotted back towards the sidelines a few minutes later, but not before delivering the biggest goal in Lakers’ history.
 
Lingering near the goal, Botts was in perfect position when Kristen Eible’s shot bounced off the hands of Cal State Dominguez Hills’ goalkeeper Alyssa Congdon. Botts’ putback with 12 minutes, 40 seconds remaining was the game’s lone tally as the Lakers captured the NCAA Division II women’s soccer championship with a 1-0 victory over the Toros.
 
“I was just really in the right place at the right time,” Botts said. “They had a great cross (by Katie Johnson) and it bounced off someone and the goalie just fiddled it with her hands a little bit and I came up for the toe poke. Right place, right time.”
 
It was the first NCAA women’s soccer championship in Grand Valley State history. The Lakers (22-0-4) lost in the championship game two years ago and were making their third Final Four appearance in the past four years.
 
“This win is for our program, our current team, our alumni -- everybody that’s been here already that hasn’t been able to accomplish this goal,” Lakers coach Dave DiIanni said. “I’m very proud of these girls, obviously. But this is for our whole program that’s watching us at home. We’re excited about that.”
 
For Cal-State Dominguez Hills (16-9-3), Saturday was the end of a great postseason stretch that included an upset of No. 1 West Florida in the semifinals.
 
“Obviously not the result that we wanted,” Toros coach Joe Flanagan said. “But it was a great run to get here. It stings a little bit, but it was a great season and to be runners up is a great honor as well.”
 
The Toros controlled the game early and even had an excellent scoring chance on a Jessica Murphy’s shot that hit off the crossbar.
 
But as the slow-starting Lakers got into the game’s flow, Cal State Dominguez Hills’ offensive chances slowed dramatically. Grand Valley State controlled the ball, pushed the action toward the Toros’ goal and snuffed any chances Cal State Dominguez Hills chances thanks to Johnson’s excellent midfield play.
 
Trailing 1-0, the Toros had two more chances to score in the closing moments. Both times, Lakers goalkeeper Chelsea Parise came up big. One save came on a diving stop after Parise had left her position to challenge a cross and the ball went right to Toros sophomore Paige Peel. The second came on a header by Kristan Boyle following a cross.
 
“There was too much time left. When we scored, I knew I was going to have to come up big somehow, some way,” Parise said. “When they had the free kick, I was thinking, ‘This is probably going to be the save I’m going to have to make.’ I came out— my coach thinks I came out too (high)—but you know what, I got back up, recovered and made the save.
 
“After I made that … it was like an out-of-body experience. I was like, ‘I just did that. We’re definitely going to win now.’”
 
Botts, who was Grand Valley’s leading scorer this season (15 goals), played only 24 minutes Saturday. But in Dilanni’s mind, the role she played this postseason was something that exemplified the Lakers this season.
 
“It’s not good,” Dilanni said of Botts’ ankle. “But I think it’s an indication of what we’re about. Sometimes through the games, your role changes a little bit. Sometimes it’s greater, sometimes it’s less. Obviously, Ashley’s role has changed a little bit in the last two or three games with the ankle, but it’s still a role. She still needed to help us out, whether it be minutes, whether it be being scrappy and then, obviously, getting a toe poke in the box that we needed … then we yanked her back out.
 
“We subbed her in, get her job done, OK, get the heck back out.”
 
The Toros, with only two seniors on the team, vowed they would make the most of the experience.
 
“We’ll be back … with a vengeance,” junior Melissa Livergood said.
 
It was an excellent way to end the season for four Lakers seniors --Lauren King, Johnson, Irie Dennis and Natalja Stanski.
 
“My bladder’s close to my eyes or something,” Stanski joked. “I cry all the time. I think I’ve cried when we’ve won the past four games.”
 
Botts may have seen limited action, but she was still named to the all-tournament team along with teammates Eible, Irie Dennis and Jenna Wenglinski. Also named to the all-tournament team were Yadira Gomez, Murphy and Congdon of Cal State Dominguez Hills; Shaneka Gordon and Kaley Morris of West Florida and Nicola D’Errico and Meagan McKinney of Saint Rose.
 
Wenglinski was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, while Eible was named Most Outstanding Offensive Player.