The first appearance by the Grace College women’s soccer team at the NAIA National Championships ended on Monday, falling to No. 8 Westmont 2-0.
The five-time NAIA champions netted twice in 40 seconds to take down the Lady Lancers in the “Sweet Sixteen” of the tournament.
Westmont started stronger offensively in the first half. The Warriors (16-3-2) had a shot and two corner kicks over the first seven minutes of play, and the Lady Lancers (15-3-3) were unable to wrestle control back from Westmont.
The Warriors struck first when Jackie Lopez finished off a cross in the 21st minute. Grace found itself in a 2-0 hole when Kelsey Steck capitalized on a defensive miscue to score less than a minute later.
Grace had a handful of chances in the first half, including a breakaway from Meredith Hollar and a fastbreak from Mallory Rondeau. But Westmont denied Grace from taking a shot over the first 30 minutes of the half.
Abby Schue made four saves in the opening half, including a leaping one-hander in the 37th minute to prevent Westmont’s third goal.
Kristen Bellinger came off the bench to give Grace a spark in the midfield, and the Lady Lancers began to find their composure midway into the half. Although Grace ended the half with better play, the squad was unable to pierce Westmont’s net before halftime.
Grace was outshot 9-2 in the first 45 minutes with Hollar and Jordan Hairgrove the only Lady Lancers to take an attempt.
The second half started much better for Grace, outshooting Westmont 3-0 over the first 15 minutes. Two minutes into the second half, Hollar fired off Grace’s best attempt. The junior unleashed a 24-yard blast that sailed above the crossbar.
Grace continued to find space to shoot in the second half, but the Lady Lancers struggled to direct their shots on target. Although Grace tallied six shots after halftime — compared to four for Westmont — none of Grace’s attempts were on goal.
The match ended without Grace mounting another serious challenge at Westmont’s goal. Westmont had a 13-8 advantage in shots for the match and 8-0 advantage in corner kicks.
The loss ends the sterling careers of seniors Rondeau, Hairgrove, Erica Manchess, Faith Voehringer, Heather Martin, Darcy Johnston, Jerusalem Groves and Meghan Wiles. The class graduates with a four-year mark of 62-20-11, earning the most wins in a four-year period in program history.
The Lady Lancers earned their highest NAIA ranking, No. 8, and first trip to NAIA Nationals in program history during the 2015 campaign. Grace also won its first NAIA Tournament match, defeating Park 2-1 in the opening round.