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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In a historic day for the program, the No. 10 Southeastern University earned its first Sun Conference Tournament Championship in program history Friday, defeating the top-seeded and No. 6 Keiser University Seahawks 4-2. The win was the first program win over an NAIA Top 10 team and snapped the Seahawks’ 22 game win streak on their home pitch.
The Fire entered the contest facing adversity. Down a pair of starters, several players were thrust into roles and positions that differed from what they were accustomed to. Graduate forward Estefania Fuentes started her first game at center back this season for the Fire.
“Coach gave me the trust to play there and my teammates had my back. They gave me the love and motivation to be able to play there,” remarked Fuentes.
SEU found itself at an early deficit, surrendering an early goal to sophomore midfielder Filippa Millqvist off a corner kick in the 2nd minute.
The Fire responded in the 7th minute, as sophomore forward Uchenna Kanu converted the first Southeastern scoring chance into a score. Kanu dribbled the ball through the Keiser defense and finished near post for her 40th goal of the season to tie things up 1-1.
SEU continued to break the Keiser pressure, resulting in a flurry of chances. The Fire tallied another goal in the 14th minute when junior midfielder Isamar Duran played in freshman forward Aisha Solorzano, rocketed one over the keeper’s head far post.
The Fire jumped out to a multi-goal advantage in the 19th minute, when Kanu weaved the ball through the Keiser back line and slid her own deflected shot past the keeper to put Southeastern up 3-1.
Senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Romero made key saves on shots that resulted from Keiser pressure and set pieces in the first half. Romero made three of her four saves in the first half.
“Keiser was pressing us really hard and playing their game, but we made the adjustments we needed to…This Keiser win shows where this program has come from,” commented Romero, the four-year SEU player.
Keiser retaliated in 41st minute when Milqvist floated a shot far post from the left side that found the back of the net. The Fire took a 3-2 lead over the Seahawks into the half.
The Seahawks were aggressive to start the second half, earning a pair of early corner kicks and attempting four shots.
However, it was Kanu who regained the multi-goal lead for the Fire in the 66th minute. The Abia, Nigeria native successfully converted her third penalty kick of the season to put the Fire up 4-2 and earn the first postseason hat trick of her collegiate career.
The Southeastern back line stood tall down the stretch, not surrendering a shot on frame to Keiser in the final 40 minutes of play.
“I thought we executed the tactics, made the changes we needed to, and the players really bought in. It was an impressive performance by all the players who played in the match,” shared Head Coach Randy Belli, who earned the first conference tournament title in his head coaching career.
10 of the SEU starting 11 played the full 90 in the win, which clinched the Fire’s first NAIA National Tournament berth in program history.
The Fire await to find out who they will face in the Opening Round of the tournament. The Selection Show takes place on Monday at 12:00 p.m.