Women’s soccer one win away from National Championship game

GVL Archvie /Andrew Mills
Junior defender Megan Brown battles for the ball with a University of Wisconsin Parkside player during Friday

GVL Archvie /Andrew Mills Junior defender Megan Brown battles for the ball with a University of Wisconsin Parkside player during Friday

Greg Monahan

A Cinderella story pops up every year in sports, especially in NCAA tournaments. No-name schools often get hot at the right time and play beyond their expectations and deep into the bracket.

It’s no different this year at the NCAA women’s soccer semifinals, and the Grand Valley State University team is hoping to take down the glass slipper and end any hopes of a “happily ever after” ending for the Florida Institute of Technology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

The Panthers entered the NCAA tournament unranked and have taken the role of underdogs since the first round, but the team has rattled off four straight upset victories – three of which came on penalty kicks – and comes into the match sporting a 10-6-5 record.

GVSU, on the other hand, is 20-1-2 and has not lost since mid-September. The team’s three games in the NCAA tournament have left the Lakers outscoring their opponents 11-0.

GVSU head coach Dave DiIanni said the Lakers will need to be in prime form to defeat the Panthers, despite their overall record.

“(The Panthers) are peaking at the right time,” he said. “They have an All-American forward that’s scored 16 goals this year, and they have an All-American goalkeeper that’s keeping them in games and making timely saves, especially in penalty kicks.”

He went on to say both teams had equal chances for a win.

“So everyone assumes that since their record is not what the other teams have that they’re the underdog,” DiIanni added. “But at this point whoever is playing the best soccer is going to be the one who’ll get through.”

Florida Tech has only had a women’s soccer team for eight years, the same amount of time DiIanni has been at the helm of the Lakers.

The Panthers almost didn’t make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament, trailing with just more than six minutes to go against Florida Southern University, but the Panthers tied the score and won the game through penalty kicks. The team has since scraped together two more wins via penalty kicks and a win over regional host Rollins College.

“They are the Cinderella team this year, and we might look at them as inexperienced, but we can’t look at them as if they’re not a good team,” said GVSU sophomore Kayla Addison. “We’re going to go in saying that (Florida Tech) has no idea what they’ve gotten into. This is the Final Four, and they haven’t been here ever. We have, and we know what we need to do.”

GVSU will be on the road for the first time since Oct. 24 and away from its home field that was so kind throughout the season. The Lakers have struggled at fields smaller than their home field, but the slightly smaller turf field in Louisville should not hassle GVSU, said senior midfielder Kristen Eible.

“Their field is not that much smaller, so as long as we use the width that we get and the rest of the field, that will be to our advantage,” she said. “Playing on turf shouldn’t be a big deal for us either because we’ve been practicing on turf back at home. So it’s almost ideal, and we’re excited for it.”

The Lakers and Panthers kick off the Division II Final Four at 11 a.m. today. The winner of the game advances to play for the National Championship at noon Saturday.

[email protected]