Sophomore Aubrey Winter scored her ninth goal of the season in the 20th minute and senior Lauren Walter scored a second-half brace just 19 seconds apart as the top-seeded No. 8 John Brown University women's soccer team claimed the 2023 SAC tournament championship for the fourth consecutive season with a 3-0 win over rival Science & Arts (Okla.) on Friday (Nov. 10) night at Alumni Field.
The win guarantees the Golden Eagles (17-2-1) its sixth consecutive trip to the NAIA National Championships via the league's lone autoberth. John Brown improved to 5-2-1 all-time against the Drovers (14-6-0) in the tournament's final round and captured the program's sixth tournament title overall under head coach Dr. Kathleen Paulsen.
The Drovers (14-5-0), which had its eight-match winning streak broken, asked the first question of the match just eight minutes in when the nation's second-leading scorer, Alicia Rey, sent a free kick 30 yards from the left flank that caught the right post but stayed out of goal. Recovering, senior Emily Dobbins then saved the rebound off the foot of Avery Walker to keep the match scoreless.
Once calm returned, the squads settled in and battled for positioning, with the Golden Eagles maintaining majority possession. JBU responded with a pair of shots – one on target, before the Drover produced a strong chance in the box off a corner service, but Luna Knoester's headed sailed over goal.
Then, off a throw-in on the right flank in the 20th minute, John Brown worked into a dangerous part of the middle of the pitch but a failed clearance bounced right to freshman Brooklyn Hendricks, who promptly booted to the far side a focused pass. After bouncing through a pair of players, Winter collected the pass and, while falling away to her left, shot the ball back to the right side of goal, besting USAO keeper Ashlyn Lonberg for her ninth of the season and fourth game-winner.
The helper was the second of Hendrick's young career.
The visitors nearly leveled the match before the intermission when Rey danced through the John Brown back line and into a dangerous scoring position, just as she fired a sure-goal from inside the left side of the box, senior Aniyah Gibbs came to the rescue, blocking the Drovers' second bid at breaking through the John Brown clean sheet.
Having outshot the Drovers by a 9-4 margin through 45 minutes, the Golden Eagles came out of the break and immediately pieced together a pair of scoring efforts just 19 seconds apart in the 53rd minute of action.
Jump-started by a precision tackle of Rey by sophomore Olivia Fish in the midfield, the ball squirted free up the right flank to Julia Lambert with speed and open space. She negotiated through a trio of Drover defenders as she closed in on goal, forcing Lonberg off her line. With the visiting keeper caught, Lambert calmly laid off a pass to her left for a one-touch tap-in from Walter, forcing the Alumni Field crowd on its feet at the impressive play.
With the advantage now doubled at two, the Drovers sent a ball forward off the ensuing kickoff but freshman Zoe Roberts rejected the notion, and booted a ball forward through the Drover back line. Walter shrugged off her defender and dashed up the left flank before breaking in on goal. Then, from 12 yards out, the John Brown leading scorer ripped a left-footed missile to the top left corner of goal to collect her 18th strike of the season.
The momentum grew too strong in favor of the Golden Eagles as the hosts built a 15-5 shooting advantage over the final 45 minutes of action. USAO nearly broke through in the 70th minute but Rey's attempt rolled through the box and missed the far left post by centimeters.
Two of senior Emily Dobbins' three saves on the evening came in the final 10 minutes of action but neither chance was as difficult a task as Rey's two previous near-misses. Dobbins collected her ninth shutout of the season and improved to 10-0-1 on the year.
Longberg saved four of seven chances, taking the loss, before Caitlin Bishop took over goalkeeping duties in the 59th minute. Bishop made all three saves required of her.
Walter and senior Rachael Stone led all players with five shot attempts, while Rey was limited to four, none of which were on goal. John Brown finished the night with a 24-9 shooting advantage.
JBU 3, MACU 1
Using corner kicks to its advantage, the Golden Eagles scored a pair of goals off services from the corner flag in the first 5:28 of the match and never looked back, avenging an earlier 0-0 draw by running away with a 3-1 victory over fourth-seeded Mid-America Christian (Okla.) on Tuesday (Nov. 7) afternoon at Alumni Field in the Sooner Athletic tournament semifinals.
Senior Giftee Pavatt opened the scoring with her header at the back post, while senior Lauren Walter quickly doubled the lead just 64 seconds later – taking advantage of a crucial MACU miscue on the recycle.
Walter completed her fourth brace of the season in the second half, netting her 16th of the season.
While generating only three shots on target, MACU broke the John Brown clean sheet bid in the 39th minute when Annika Gerdau's free kick found its way around a Golden Eagle wall that wasn't lined up with the far left post, allowing the visitors to cut the JBU lead in half before the intermission.
The Golden Eagles then out-shot Mid-America Christian by a 13-3 margin in the second half, with Walter's strike adding insurance in the 61st minute. The shot margin finished 26-8, in favor of John Brown.
Pavatt's header at the back post in the fifth minute came off a lovely service from freshman Julia Lambert at the left flag. Pavatt's fifth of the season rolled off her head and up and over the Evangel defenders and keeper to break a 94:24 scoreless drought against MACU.
The helper was Lambert's 12th of the season; she just tied for 11th most in the nation this year.
Walter then doubled the lead shortly after. Off sophomore Aubrey Winter's corner service from the right flag, the MACU defense failed the clear the ball, allowing senior Aniyah Gibbs to play a high, arching ball back into the box from 30 yards from goal. Evangels keeper Rachel Torres failed to catch the recycled play, as Walter snuck between a pair of defender to poke in the loose ball from six yards out.
To complete the brace in the second half, Walter collected a blocked shot from junior Elise Bosma, cut across the middle and ripped a shot to the far right post past backup Makayla Farquharson, returning the hosts to its original two-goal advantage.
Senior Emily Dobbins moved to 9-0-1 on the season, stopping two of three MACU chances on frame. Torres took the loss for the visitors, allowing two goals on four chances before giving way to Farquaharson.