Grace bests Friends at NAIA Nationals

ATCHISON, Kan. – Grace’s women’s soccer team opened up the 2019 NAIA National Championships with a 5-3 win over Friends on Friday.

The Lady Lancers won the first game of the NAIA Opening Round, held at Benedictine University.

No. 19 Grace advances to play the host No. 22 Benedictine on Saturday at 3 p.m. (ET). The winner will head to Orange Beach, Ala., for the remainder of the national championships.

The victory marks Grace’s second NAIA tournament win in program history.

Grace was patient to build its possession attack in the national tournament opener. The Lady Lancers (15-4-2) seemed to generate more quality chances as the half progressed.

Grace had the first chance of the afternoon when a glancing header from Liz Van Wormer rolled wide of the far post. The senior had another shot three minutes later that also misfired.

Sixteen minutes into the match, Grace worked a patient attack on the right side of the field. The ball ended with Corinne Villalobos, but her one-time volley inside the box was wide.

Grace’s pressure continued. JJ Aalbue fired a low cross through the box, but Grace was unable to connect at the untended far post.

Another chance from Alexis Larimore rolled a foot wide of the left goalpost.

Finally, Grace’s assault on Friends’s goal paid off. Larimore was fouled in the box, and Lea Moessinger converted the penalty kick for a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.

Nine minutes later, Grace’s lead doubled. Sacia Hanson crossed from the right side. Aalbue fired a volley, which ricocheted slightly off Taylor Fort and into the net. Fort was credited with the goal.

Fort nearly scored Grace’s third late in the half, but her 1v1 shot was saved.

Grace went into halftime with a 2-0 lead, outshooting Friends 10-5 in the opening 45 minutes.

The Falcons (15-6) battled back with an early goal after halftime, dribbling calmly in the box and scoring to cut Grace’s lead down to 2-1.

It did not take Grace long to respond. The Lady Lancers scored a third goal from a brilliant play from Hanson.

Hanson juked a defender along the right endline. She fired a cross along the goal line, and Ashley VandenBoom was there for a simple tap-in finish. The play marked VandenBoom’s first career goal in her third career game.

Aalbue scored her first goal of the match three minutes after that. She took advantage of a defensive miscue by the Falcons, rifling a short-range shot past the goalkeeper for Grace’s fourth goal.

But the Falcons refused to settle. Friends kept pressure on Grace with a second goal shortly after Aalbue’s to make the score 4-2.

Grace added to its cushion in the 71st minute. Van Wormer and Cassidy Wasson combined for a clever give-and-go pass. Wasson’s cross found Baylei Peters in front of the goal, and Peters scored for Grace’s fifth and final goal.

Friends squeezed in a third goal during the final two minutes, but the win was already secure for Grace.

The Lady Lancers strategically used their substitutes in the second half with a second game looming on Saturday. Overall, 19 players saw the pitch for Grace.

Bethany Blackwood made seven saves to pick up the win for the Lady Lancers.