Twice As Nice: Grace Women’s Soccer Repeats as NCCAA Champs
For the second straight season, Grace’s women’s soccer team ended the year as the NCCAA national champions.
The Lady Lancers rolled in Saturday’s championship bout, partying its way to a 6-0 win over Oakland City at the Austin-Tindall Sports Complex.
Grace nabbed its second championship in team history and the 14th championship overall for Grace Athletics.
JJ Aalbue was named the Tournament Most Outstanding Player, and Marlene Menzel earned the Select Golden Ball for the most goals in the tournament.
Menzel collected her second straight hat trick to power Grace’s offense, and Kailey Burrell scored twice in her final collegiate game.
Saturday’s final got off to a dream start for Grace. Aalbue gained an edge on the end line and fired a hard shot. Her attempt was parried away by the goalkeeper, but Aalbue alertly collected the loose ball and pounded in her goal less than three minutes into the game.
Grace’s next best chance came in the 15th minute. Aalbue broke free in the middle of the field and crossed to Janni Bettin, but Bettin’s one-time volley went high.
Five minutes later, Grace doubled its lead. It was sparked by Aalbue, who beat a defender on the left edge of the field. A firm cross found Marlene Menzel wide open at the far post for a clean finish.
The next 20 minutes were a masterclass in possession for Grace. The Mighty Oaks had little time on the ball, and Grace moved the ball forwards and backwards, left and right with ease.
Grace found a third goal just before halftime. Ashley VandenBoom fired a shot that was saved; the ball fell to Kailey Burrell, who scored from a tight angle just to the left of the goal.
Grace went into halftime with a commanding 3-0 lead.
The Lady Lancers outshot Oakland City 11-3 in the first half; Grace had the only nine shots on goal during the half and the only four corner kicks.
The Mighty Oaks had some of their best offensive moments during the first 10 minutes of the second half, pushing forward in an attempt to rally.
But Grace’s defense held firm. Sofia Lerro made two strong saves in the course of a minute to preserve the clean sheet. She combined with Kimberly Aalbue to record the championship shutout in goal.
Grace still had three more goals remaining. Menzel got the first in the 66th minute, tagging a shot from outside the penalty box that pierced the back of the net.
The fifth goal completed Menzel’s hat trick. Shannon Farnsworth made a perfect cross to Menzel, who drilled her shot under the crossbar for a 5-0 lead.
The final goal came in the 86th minute. Aalbue picked out Burrell in a dangerous spot on the left side of the field. Burrell took care of the rest, drilling her shot into the back of the net.
Grace finished the match with a 20-9 advantage in shots, including 14-2 in shots on goal.
Aalbue had a goal and two assists, Burrell had two goals, and Menzel scored three times. Menzel scored seven goals across the four NCCAA games, and Aalbue had four goals and three assists for the week.
Defensively, Simone Castaneda, Lucy Schmitt, Danae Moriarty, Lilli Oberhoff and Erin Crew did well to blank the Mighty Oaks.
After the tournament, Aalbue, Lea Moessinger, Oberhoff and Lea Fricke were named to the NCCAA All-Tournament Team.
Saturday concludes a sensational tournament for Grace. The Lady Lancers, who were the No. 1 seed, won all four games by a combined scoreline of 17-2.
The win wraps up the sterling careers of Grace’s senior class. The group earned a spot in four straight NAIA national tournaments and collected the first two national titles in team history.
Grace ends the year with an impressive 17-5-2 record under head coach Michael Voss; it marks the second-most wins and second-best winning percentage in team history.