Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -The opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament started exactly how the Northwest Conference Champion Pacific Lutheran University women's soccer team wanted it to in its match against Whittier College, as the Lutes slammed the Poets 4-0 on Saturday night inside Rolland Stadium.
PLU (17-3-1) got off to a fabulous start with three goals coming in the first 18 minutes of the contest. It started when Kaylie Rozell headed a pass from Rachel Ross that got past the keeper in the third minute. Ross was on the other end in the 14th minute, collecting a header goal off a feed from Megan Anderson to add on to the Lute lead, making it 2-0. PLU continued to add on when Kelsey Hathaway sent a ball into the box that Machaela Graddy finished with a header to put the Lutes up 3-0.
"You couldn't ask for a better start," Head Coach Seth Spidahl said. "Scoring early was important, it was Whittier's first playoff game in a while. There were nerves on both sides, but we've been through it before. We were pretty confident, and scoring early lifted our team."
PLU protected the lead they had built in the second half with a consistent pace of play. The Lutes got an opportunity when they were awarded a penalty kick after drawing a foul. In the 54th minute, Brianna Hunting stepped home and scored on the penalty kick. The goal was Hunting's first of her career. The Lutes were efficient offensively, turning all four shots on frame into goals to eliminate the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Champion Poets (12-9).
The PLU defense was as tremendous as its been all year long. Natalie Robinson picked up her 17th shutout of the season. She made six saves on the evening.
"We knew Whittier was going to shoot a lot," Spidahl said. "We had to be on our toes, but I don't think we had to make a lot of big saves, or any outstanding things from Natalie that had to happen. It's hard when you have a lead to keep your defensive discipline. I'm really proud of the team for keeping that shutout."
The Lutes advance to the round of 32 where they will take on host California Lutheran University tomorrow night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"California Lutheran have been highly ranked in the region all year," Spidahl said. "It'll be the best team from Southern California against the best team from the Pacific Northwest. We're excited to play, we want to keep our season going ,and hopefully we can keep our process going and play in a Sweet 16 game."