PENSACOLA, Fla. — Grand Valley State began the year at the top of the Division II women’s soccer preseason rankings. Now, the Lakers will have the opportunity to finish what they started.
The Lakers (22-1-1) held off Western Washington, 3-2, in the second semifinal of the 2015 NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship at the Ashton Brosnaham Complex Thursday.
“We had a hard time making some adjustments, but I think the key for us the beginning of each half and capitalizing on three goals in the first 10 minutes of each period, which really set the tone,” said GVSU second-year head coach Jeff Hosler. “That gave our girls a little bit more confidence. I’m proud that our girls could gut it out.”
GVSU advances to Saturday’s national championship match at 1 p.m. ET against Columbus State. The Lakers will play in the NCAA final for the third consecutive season and will look to capture their third straight national title and fifth overall.
The Lakers were aggressive early, scoring twice in the first nine minutes of the match.
“Our theme over the last couple weeks has been to focus on being playmakers and making key plays in key moments,” Hosler said.
Junior forward Jayma Martin, a transfer from Santa Monica C.C., netted the first goal of the contest in the seventh minute off a header ball by sophomore forward Gabriella Mencotti.
Less than two minutes later, GVSU struck again as junior forward Kendra Stauffer tallied her 16th goal of the season, unassisted.
Just before the break, the Vikings were able to get on the scoreboard as Becca Cates served up an assist for a Delanee Nilles header that made its way to the back of the box to cut the lead to 2-1 at the half.
“I felt there were a couple we did not make defensively in that first half, but our girls were chatting it up when we came back in the locker room getting themselves prepared,” Hosler said.
The Lakers came out of the locker room with a little fire in their belly. Stauffer sent a cross to the far post to Martin finished off the play to put GVSU up 3-1.
“Because we had such a good start to the first half, I think it gave us the right mindset to know we could go out there and do it again,” Hosler said.
But the Vikings (21-2-1) wouldn’t go away easily.
“Any time you come back from two two-goal deficits like we did, it shows heart and character,” said WWU head coach Travis Connell. “We can be proud of the effort and the character we approached this match with.”
GVSU freshman goalkeeper Emily Maresh tallied four saves — three in the second half — to help the Lakers hang tough as the Vikings made multiple comebacks.
In the 74th minute, freshman forward Gabriela Pelogi dribbled around the defender and booted the ball to the back of the net to narrow the Lakers’ lead to 3-2.
“They took us out of our rhythm for a long time,” Hosler said. “They played hard and were a very physical team.”
GVSU is undefeated in its past 14 NCAA tournament games. With three goals in the contest, the Lakers increased their single-season school record for goals to 102.
“They are a talented team and definitely the best team we’ve played,” Connell said. “We’ve really had our way with teams using our defensive pressure and there are times we got to them, but by far they dealt with us better than any team we faced.”
The Lakers ended Western Washington’s 20-game unbeaten streak with the victory.