Players worked hard, followed game plan 'to a T,' coach Grant Landy says
Just about everything went according to plan, in more ways than one, for the Concordia University women's soccer team this season.
The result: The Cavaliers are No. 1, champions of the NAIA for the first time.
Back home in Portland, the players returned to school on Monday and began taking their finals, while still basking in the glow of their triumph.
On Saturday night at Orange Beach, Ala, they capped a six-day, four-game run through the national tournament with a 1-0 victory over Westmont College of Santa Barabra, Calif.
"The girls worked extremely hard all year in practices and games," coach Grant Landy says. "And they were very good at the national tournament. They followed the game plan to a T."
Concordia's 22-1-1 season boosted Landy's 17-year record at the Northeast Portland school to 311-58-24.
At this year's 16-team national tournament, the No. 1-ranked Cavs defeated, in order, No. 10 St. Thomas 2-0, No. 6 Embry-Riddle 1-0, No. 3 Lindsey-Wilson 2-1 in double overtime and No. 5 Westmont.
"Our strategy the entire tournament, and especially in the last three matches, was to put a lot of pressure on the ball," Landy says. "The last three teams in particular like to build their attack, have time and space on the ball and get a lot of players involved going forward."
Concordia was able to disrupt all three foes, and outshot them 15-4, 18-3, 24-4 (57-11 combined).
"We had most of the possession and opportunities," Landy says.
Until Saturday, Westmont was 5-0 in NAIA championship games, having won titles in 1985, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003.
But the Cavaliers' tenacity kept the Warriors from getting good scoring chances in Saturday's final.
"We didn't allow them to get any rhythm going forward," Landy says.
Concordia forward Hannah Scott, a senior from Milwaukie High, scored in the 65th minute, finding the top left corner of the net from just outside the goal box.
"There was about a 15 mile-an-hour wind, and we decided to go into it for the first half, so I felt pretty good about our chances in second half," Landy says. "On that (winning) play, we had a free kick on the left side and played it short. Samantha Johnson put the ball behind the wall, and Erin Huisingh played the ball across the box to Hannah. We tried to catch Westmont off guard and go quickly, and it worked."
Just as exciting a match came in the semifinals. Lindsey Wilson scored in the 70th minute to pull even at 1-1 and snap a string of 1,045 scoreless minutes by the Concordia defense. It was only the third shot of the game by the Red Raiders.
"Soccer is a funny game," Landy says. "The one good chance they got, they put away. But we persevered."
Concordia's golden goal came from Scott in the 103rd minute on a hustle play that included a little good fortune.
Senior defender Samantha Johnson sent in a long free kick that went straight at the goal, and Lindsey Wilson's keeper came slightly off her line to punch the ball away. Scott was close to the goalie, however, and the ball ricocheted off her and into the net, all in the blink of an eye.
Landy called it a case of being in the right place at the right time.
"One of the things we told the team, at halftime or going into the overtime, was to follow your runs into the box, and don't stop just because the goalkeeper is coming out," he says.
On the winning play, "at the last minute Hannah turned her head, and the ball went off her and right back into the back of the net."
Concordia finished its championship season on an 18-game winning streak, and the goal by Lindsey Wilson was the only one the Cavs conceded over their final 12 matches.
"Going into the season, the majority of our team up front was juniors and seniors, so the biggest question mark was what our defense was going to look like," Landy says. "Once we found the right spot for everybody, the back line complemented one another very well, and we had depth there. We moved people around, we started different players I just give our team a lot of credit for accepting their roles."
The whole team was like that, he says, and kept a very business-like throughout the season.
"The way the players approached every practice and every game was very good," he says. "Typically, you have a little bobble during the season, but this team never did."
Landy grew up in Southern California and played college soccer at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. In the late 1990s, after a year of pro soccer in Germany, he moved to Eugene. "I just followed my sister up here; she was going to grad school at U of 0," he says.
Landy did a little coaching in the area and latched on for the 1996 season with then-Ducks coach Bill Steffen.
Steffen now lives about 45 minutes from Orange Beach, Ala., and he came to last week's tournament to have dinner with the team and watch the championship game.
"Back in '96, Bill gave me a chance to join his staff and gain some collegiate coaching experience," Landy says. "I don't think I'd have gotten the job at Concordia if he hadn't done that."
Only four seniors were on the 26-player Concordia roster this season.
"I feel pretty good about where we're headed for next year," Landy says.
Among the returnees will be defender Jasmin Ayala, who was named MVP of the NAIA tournament.
"What an unbelievable season she had," Landy says, of the 5-2 junior from Simi Valley, Calif. "Sometimes a back line player gets overlooked, because her efforts don't show up in the stat sheet, but we put Jasmine on the other team's best attacker pretty much all season, and she shut down everyone."
Ayala showed up at Concordia in spring 2011 as a walk-on.
"I didn't know much about her as a player in high school or club," Landy says, "but we iloved her athleticism. She's the classic diamond in the rough, an amazing person and player, as driven as anyone we've had."
Laughing, Landy says that giving Ayala a spot on the team "was one of the best decisions I've ever made."
Also due to return in 2014 are both goalies, freshman Olivia Brock, who started 16 games and was the No. 1 keeper in all the key games, and backup Nicole Franklin, who started eight times.
"They're very similar," Landy says. "Nicole is a very good goalkeeper. During the regular season, we were rotating them, but at some point as it got into the postseason we really needed to figure out who we were going to go with. I give Nicole a lot of credit she was going 100 percent in practices and was very supportive of Olivia."
Next season is expected to be the NAIA swan song for Concordia, which is planning to jump to NCAA Division II status in 2015-16.
"I really wanted our program, and I mean program this last decade, our current team and our alumni to win a national title at the NAIA level before we leave," Landy says.
Concordia intends to join the Great Northwest Athletic Association.
"The GNAC is really good in women's soccer, top to bottom," Landy says. "Western Washington just made it to final four.
"We're going to have to show up every day once we get in that league. But we've played a bunch of those teams in preseason or in the springtime and have competed well. We're excited about the opportunity."