The 2012 NCAA Division II Soccer Championships lived up to its title billing Saturday at Blanchard Woods Park.
With the men’s and women’s crowns on the line, both games came down to the wire.
In the afternoon opener, the Lynn University Fighting Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then had to hold off a furious rally by the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals to win the men’s title 3-2.
In women’s action, the University of West Florida Argonauts scored the game-winning goal with just under 14 minutes to play, defeating the University of California San Diego, 1-0.
The Fighting Knights (19-3-1) entered with the stingiest defnsive team in the nation and put pressure on the Cardinals right away scoring the first goal at the 2:07 mark of the first half. Jack Winter took a corner kick, A.B. Magnusson headed it to Johnny Mertl who in turn headed it into the goal – the first of the year for the defensive midfielder.
“When you go down a goal it’s tough to chase a game for long stretches at a time against a team like that,” said Cardinals head coach Cale Wassermann. “Whether it’s four or five to zero, it doesn’t matter to us, we fight for each other, we play to the final whistle.”
The Fighting Knights struck again just before the half.
At the 40:19 mark, James Aldred’s direct kick from 25 yards went to Yannick Braeuer on right side of net about 15 yards out and he headed it into the bottom left for a 2-0 lead.
Anthony Desperito, the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, scored the Fighting Knights third goal with just under 12 minutes gone in the second half, appearing to put the game away.
The Cardinals refused to fold, however, scoring two unanswered goals late in a five-minute span. “I’ll hand it to them, they never quit,” said Fighting Knights goalkeeper Matt DiCerbo. “With 20 minutes to go down 3-0, I think most teams would have. They put us under immense pressure and got a few goals. It wasn’t pretty, but we were able to hang on and that’s all that matters for us.”
Looking like the University of West Florida Argonauts were going to an overtime period for the second-consecutive match, juniors Sashana Cambell and Chelsea Palmer ensured that wouldn’t happen.
With 13:28 to play, Campbell put the ball in front from just outside the left goal post. When University of California San Diego goalkeeper Kelcie Brodsky couldn’t handle the ball cleanly, Palmer was waiting in front and calmly tapped it in the bottom right corner for the game-winning goal.
It was the first national championship for the Tritons and was the first trip to the finals since 2008 when they lost in double overtime to Seattle Pacific in 2008. They finished the season 24-1, tying the school record for most wins in a season.
The win came on the heels of their double-overtime win over defending national champion Saint Rose in Thursday’s semifinal, also on a goal by Palmer.
The Tritons were on the attack from the beginning and outshot the Argonauts 11-4 in the first half. When the defense wasn’t clearing the ball ahead of her, Argonaut junior goalie Sarah Story, the most outstanding defensive player of the tournament, recorded three of her four saves in the half.
After regrouping at the half, the Argonauts flipped the script and put the pressure on the Tritons (17-3-4), outshooting them 15-4 in the second half.
“The first half I thought we played very well,” said Tritons head coach Brian McManus. “It was almost as if the second half we froze a little bit and were more worried about losing than winning, That’s not like us. We didn’t relax and play like the way we did on Thursday.”