LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Senior goalkeeper Andrea Strauss -- not even a member of the Grand Valley State women's soccer team until midway through the 2013 season -- made three consecutive saves in a shootout, sending the Lakers to their fifth NCAA championship match in the past six seasons.
GVSU and Saint Rose battled to a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtime periods. But Strauss' heroics in penalty kicks gave the Lakers a 3-0 victory in penalty kicks.
"Our girls deserve a lot of credit for the way they competed," head coach Jeff Hosler said. "Andrea came up with a couple huge saves for us, definitely a big save there in overtime on the opportunity [All-American Carmelina Puopolo] had. We played with a sense of urgency for the 110 minutes. Their confidence in each other never once waivered. I'm just so proud of their gritty performance today."
Generating scoring chances was not an issue for GVSU early on. Junior midfielder Katie Klunder just missed on a one-on-one chance only in the eighth minute. Sophomore midfielder Marti Corby barely misplaced a shot inside the 18-yard box at the 15:45 mark. Two minutes later, a header from senior midfielder Charlie Socia near the goal mouth missed inches high.
The biggest surge of momentum came from Strauss, though. A pair of fantastic saves in a 90-second stretch by Strauss kept Saint Rose off the scoreboard. The All-Midwest Region Second Team keeper caught a rocket of a shot, taken from inside the 18, and punched away a header off a cross in front of the six-yard box.
Despite all of that, Saint Rose still struck first.
Following a long service from a free kick, the Golden Knights created a slew of opportunities inside the Laker 18. Senior defender Juane Odendaal headed away an on-target shot, however, the ball eventually made it onto the feet of Carmelina Puopolo, who scored her 22nd goal of the year.
Trailing after 45 minutes for the first time since a neutral-site meeting with Indianapolis on Sept. 20, 2011 -- a 2-1 comeback victory -- GVSU was not discouraged. Instead the Lakers were more driven, hungry and staunch."[I told them at halftime] there doesn't need to be a sense of panic. I thought through the first half we were the better side. We tended to have possession in the attacking half for long strings of possession," Hosler said. "And we didn't panic. We didn't resort to being direct and still played within our system and philosophy."
Both offenses, which combined for 14 shots in the opening frame, came to a standstill early in the second half. Neither club managed a shot for 10 minutes.
Then sophomore forward Kendra Stauffer gave GVSU its best chance of the evening. Stauffer crashed the 18 from the far side of the pitch, bringing a Saint Rose defender along with her. A foul inside the box gave the Lakers a penalty kick.
For the first time all year, Corby stepped up to take the penalty. Although Ashley Homer stopped her initial shot, Corby wisely followed her miss, chipping home the loose rebound to knot the score at 1-1 at the 55:52 mark.
"It wasn't my greatest penalty kick attempt, but I knew she would give up a rebound, especially with the slick conditions," Corby said. "I just sprinted up and looked to try and finish it, complete the play and make up for my mistake."
A bundle of dangerous runs, including another one-on-one for Klunder, in the closing five minutes of regulation heightened the drama, though it left the scoreboard unchanged.
In the extra sessions, freshman forward Gabriella Mencotti had GVSU's best scoring chance, ringing a hard shot off the post midway through the first overtime.
Then it all fell to Strauss to keep the Lakers alive. The aftermath of Mencotti's shot was an offensive run for Saint Rose. A defensive breakdown left Puopolo and Strauss completely alone. As Puopolo charged the goal, Strauss ran to meet her, slid and blocked the shot.
"I was a little late, when I did dive, it went off my foot and ricocheted," Strauss said. "But I was just happy to get a body part on it."
It would not be the end of Strauss' night, though. She still needed to carry the Lakers through penalty kicks. With each stop, the Lakers, all standing at midfield, yelled a little louder and jumped a little higher out of pure excitement.
"Ever since I started playing goalkeeper, I just kind of had a knack for reading people and thinking where they're going to go, reading where they line up and how they approach the ball," Strauss said. "A lot of it is just going with my gut."
Socia scored following the first save. Guibord scored after the second stop, which Strauss dove to get a glove on. Once Saint Rose's third penalty kick was turned away, it was as if its fate had already been sealed. Mencotti, who already set a new school record with three made penalty kicks this season, easily drove home the shootout-winning kick.
"We have confidence in a lot of players on our roster [in penalty kicks]," said Hosler. "Charlie and Gabbie have been stone cold every opportunity they've had."
GVSU will seek its second consecutive national title, and fourth in program history, on Saturday afternoon against the winner of Thursday night's Rollins-Colorado Mines match. Kick off for the NCAA championship is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.