November 18, 2017
Before Saturday’s 1-0 win over Olivet Nazarene University in the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round, coach Curtis Lewis told his Mustangs that the Tigers were dangerous on set pieces, corner kicks and throw-ins.
He wasn’t kidding. On several occasions, Tiger Tess Marcordes, standing 20 feet back from the out of bounds line, charged the boundary, flipped forward onto the ball and summersaulted into a towering throw.
Olivet Nazarene created several dangerous chances Saturday, but it was Master’s that ultimately threw its guest for a loop.
Senior Victoria Gama scored the game-winner shortly before halftime, one day after her birthday, and senior Kaylee Poffek made three saves in what Lewis called “her best performance as a keeper.”
It was appropriate, really, that seniors led the way. No TMU players had been this far in the postseason except that group, which advanced to the NAIA’s final site competition in Alabama in 2014 as freshmen.
Their goal this year was to give the new frosh a cross-country trip. Now, they’ve made good on it.
The Mustangs (15-5-1) will play Tennessee Wesleyan on Nov. 28 in Orange Beach, Alabama.
The last time Master’s advanced to Alabama, in 2014, it lost 2-1 to Northwestern Ohio. The hope, now, is that the Mustangs shook off any postseason jitters Saturday – which might have caused them to struggle connecting passes or inhibited capitalizing on two early scoring opportunities – before facing a Tennessee Wesleyan squad that upset No. 6 seed Keiser University on Saturday.
The Mustangs dealt Keiser its only regular-season loss this year as part of an early surge that vaulted Master’s high into the Coaches’ Top 25. A loss to Vanguard and a trio of losses to Westmont left the Mustangs hungry and scrapping for a playoff berth.
Ultimately, Master’s earned the No. 11 seed and, after Saturday, the right to play on.
It wasn’t easy.
“We definitely had a bend but don’t break mentality on defense,” Lewis said. “We had a hard time connecting today. The wind was tough and the opponent was big and organized. We’ve struggled against big teams, so to face one of those big teams and grind it out 1-0 at this point in the year, that’s what you need.”
Sophomore Laura English assisted Gama’s goal, lifting a pass deep into Olivet Nazarene’s 18-yard box, where Gama finished.
English has been a key cog in what’s turned into a defensive machine. For much of the year, Master’s mixed and matched on the back line. But English, Gianna Crimi and All-GSAC pick Kayla Peterson have led the way in two postseason shutouts in three games. The other game was a 1-0 loss to Westmont in the Golden State Athletic Conference semifinals.
Saturday, the Mustangs needed just one score, and Gama provided it. Lewis, for his part, provided a catchy postgame slogan.
“Birthday girl sends us to ‘Bama,” he said.