PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Columbus State senior forward Chelsea Person trusts her teammates.
And she should. When she placed the ball into scoring position, her teammates were able to capitalize as the Cougars downed Bridgeport 3-1 in the first semifinal of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship on Thursday.
“If you’re going to work for the girl next to you, then she’s going to put the ball in the back of the net for you,” Person said. “If you get a chance to get in, then give it your all. That was the game plan and I think we were able to execute that today.”
The Cougars (22-2-1) advance to Saturday’s championship at 1 p.m. ET against the winner of Grand Valley State and Western Washington.
Columbus State stretched its winning streak to 19 games by scoring three goals on Bridgeport (21-2-1), which had allowed just eight up to this point in the season.
Person, a native of Decatur, Georgia, sent a corner kick in front of the box and after a short scrum, freshman Olivia Jarrell was able to finish it off and put the Cougars up 1-0 in the 21st minute.
Jarrell, who is playing in her home state this weekend, leads the Cougars with 17 goals on the season. The score by the Peach Beach Conference Freshman of the Year tied the CSU freshman record for goals in a season set in 2007.
Person continued to pick apart the stout Bridgeport defense, offering up a perfect cross in front of the far post to Atalia Ramirez, who was able to put it past the Purple Knights’ goalkeeper Jennifer Wendelius to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
With two assists in the contest, Person added to her team-leading total of 16.
“We’re a group that you never know where things are going to come from,” said Columbus State head coach Jay Entlich. “We’ve had about 10 or 11 kids score goals for us throughout the season. We’re not relying on one player.”
The Cougars built their lead in the second half with a Bridgeport own goal. While you won’t see her name in the box score, Person was instrumental in creating in the tally. She took the ball to end line and swung it to the far post with a strong boot. The defender deflected the ball back into the net for the score in the 63rd minute.
“Unfortunately, we struggled a little bit in the first half,” said Bridgeport head coach Magnus Nilerud. “We didn’t really get into the rhythm of our game plan that we had laid out. By the time we actually did it was a little too late.”
Bridgeport freshman Jess Laszlo netted a late goal for the Purple Knights to ruin the shutout for the CSU goalkeeper Maylyn Parsons.
“Defensively, our backline played really, really well today,” Entlich said. “[Lazslo] -- what a player, she was tremendous and she got us in the end with about two minutes to play. To keep a kid off the scoreboard for 88 minutes who has had 22 goals all year says a lot about our program.”
Laszlo, a native of Stamford, Connecticut, finished the season with a team-leading 23 goals.
“They were a lot faster than us and stronger to the ball,” said Bridgeport senior Nicola Worthington. “They took us off our guard and we never really got going today.”
Columbus State set a program record with its 21st victory of the season but the Cougars are anything but satisfied.
“I’m super proud of this group, but we’re not done yet,” Entlich said. “We didn’t come down here to come in second place. We want to make sure we don’t stop — we haven’t arrived. Hopefully, we’re put on a performance Saturday like we did today.”
The Cougars, who were playing in their first NCAA semifinals, want to take home the first-place trophy.
“We’re just competing and advancing,” Entlich said. “We’re not going to be happy if we go home in second place. No one remembers who lost the Super Bowl or who lost the World Series. Everybody remembers the champion.”