For the second time in the program's history, the Cornerstone University women's soccer team has qualified for the opening round of the NAIA National Championship Women's Soccer Tournament.
The Golden Eagles, 11-6-2 on the year, and champions of both the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference regular season and post-season tournament, will be in Columbus, KY., Saturday to take on 7th-ranked Lindsay-Wilson College.
The hosts, already two-time NAIA National Champions, will be taking part in their 12th consecutive National Tournament first-round game.
"It's quite a challenge," said Cornerstone coach Randy Strawser. "They are regulars at the Nationals, while we have only three players who made our previous trip in 2007.
"Their team is made up of mostly foreign players; they have only three or four Americans on their roster. Many of their players have played at a very high level in their country."
Although Cornerstone received votes during the weekly NAIA national polls, the Golden Eagles never were able to crack the top 25 in the national rankings.
"Maybe that's a good thing," Strawser said. "This could actually be a pretty good match-up for us. They don't try to jam it down your throat, they move the ball around and keep probing. I think we could match up pretty well with them, despite how many times they've been there and the ranking they have."
Cornerstone will be led by sweeper Ashleigh Lund, the WHAC's Defensive Player of the Year.
"She leads our team in the back," Strawser said. "We didn't give up a lot of goals this year because of her strong play, and the help she got from the rest of the defense."
"Seniors Amanda Dudiak and Ashley Morrow led us in the midfield. Freshmen Amanda Van Laar and Maile Carigon have led the way up front and allow us to possess the ball in the attack. Cornerstone does not have one standout scorer. "That's a good thing," Strawser said, "because the other team doesn't have anybody to key on. We have had 11 different players score goals this season . Maile Carigon has been very hot lately, she had the goal against Siena Heights and got out first one against Aquinas."
Cornerstone is a young team. Twenty of the 26 roster players are freshmen or sophomores.
"It has been a great season already," Strawser said, "and making it into the Nationals just makes it sweeter. You just never know how a season will go but this one has certainly brought a lot of rewards for each member of the team.
If Cornerstone wins its 1 p.m. (CST) game Saturday, the Golden Eagles will advance to the National Finals Nov. 29 in Decatur, AL., facing the winner of the Spring Arbor-Robert Morris game.
"The big thing is that all of our young players will get a taste of playing in the Nationals, and that will give them an idea of how hard they need to work to keep going back. It is just a great situation for us."
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