GVSU beats Western Washington in NCAA semifinals

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

Mason Tronsor

PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Grand Valley State soccer team entered Thursday’s NCAA Division II semifinal match two wins away from making program history, aiming for its third consecutive national championship.

After the Lakers (22-1-1) sank Western Washington 3-2, the magic number is down to one.

GVSU used two goals within the first 10 minutes of the first half to gain control of the match. Junior forward Jayma Martin, who has had a fiery stretch thus far in the NCAA tournament, scored the first goal six minutes into the match following a scrum in front of the net.

“I’ve just been doing what we have talked about every day,” Martin said. “Every single day at training, I’ve just tried to stay focused and keep our goal in mind. It’s not about me. It’s about all of us.”

Three minutes later, the Lakers struck again.

Sophomore forward Gabriella Mencotti, who had the assist on Martin’s goal, dished out her second helper of the day as her shot bounced off the hands of the Viking goalkeeper and to the feet of junior forward Kendra Stauffer, who tapped the ball across the goal line.

The goal was Stauffer’s 16th of the season and put GVSU ahead 2-0 with more than 30 minutes still left in the first half.

The Vikings did not go quietly. They were able to cut the deficit to one goal after senior Delanee Nilles scored with a header following a UWW corner kick.

The Lakers led 2-1 after the first half.

“Our theme over the past couple of weeks has been being playmakers,” said GVSU head coach Jeff Hosler. “The girls were in the locker room chatting getting themselves prepared as well. They had a good idea what the conversation piece would be.”

GVSU responded early in the second half. About 30 seconds into the half, Stauffer knifed through the defense and found Martin, who put a shot home for her second goal of the match. Martin’s goal brought momentum back to GVSU’s sideline and extended the Lakers’ cushion to 3-1.

Just like in the first half, however, the Vikings fought back. This time, they received some help from GVSU.

With 15 minutes left in the match, Viking freshman Gabriela Pelogi struck a ball just inside the box, which ricocheted off a Laker defender for an own goal, drawing UWW within one goal at 3-2.

The final 15 minutes went back and forth, but the Lakers weathered UWW’s pressing offense, and stood their ground to return to the NCAA Division II national championship for the sixth time in the last seven years.

“(WWU) took us out of our rhythm,” Hosler said. “They are a very physical team. I’m very happy, though, and proud of our girls to grit and gut it out.”

This is the one of the few times this season the Lakers have allowed multiple goals to an opponent. The lone previous occurrence was GVSU’s 3-0 loss to Quincy in the season-opener.

GVSU will play again Saturday for a chance to win its third consecutive national championship. The Lakers will match up against the Columbus State Cougars. The Cougars upset a talented Bridgeport squad in the first semifinal of the day by a final of 3-1.

“Each year we talk about how if we do us, then we can go as far as we set our minds to,” Stauffer said.

The match begins at 2 p.m. at Escambia County Stadium in Pensacola, Florida.