The Bruins women’s soccer team completed its historic second season last weekend at the NCCAA DII tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., defeating Clearwater Christian College 1-0 to claim the NCCAA DII national title.
After having won the at-large bid and continuing into the tournament, the Bruins were determined to make their appearance count.
Six teams entered the tournament and were separated into two groups. Group A comprised No. 4 Bob Jones University, No. 1 Providence University College and No. 5 Ohio Christian University, while Group B included No. 2 Clearwater Christian College, No. 6 Cairn University and No. 3 Maranatha Baptist Bible College.
The Bruins’ first matchup in the tournament was against No. 1 ranked Providence University. The Pilots, from Manitoba, Canada, entered the tournament with an intimidating 13-3 record. The Bruins started the game aggressively and controlled possession.
Knowing their opponent would not be easily deterred, the Bruins were determined to play hard and fight for every ball. It took only nine minutes for the Bruins to get the lead on the Pilots, and they outshot Providence 13-2 in the first half. This barrage, mostly provided by senior Becca Luttrell and sophomore Spencer Martin, kept Providence on its heels and unable to obtain a consistent flow of possession. The Bruins led at the half 1-0.
The Pilots had not lost confidence and came out hard after the break. But Martin would have none of it. In the 55th minute, she worked the ball on top of the 18 to create valuable space and then placed a shot perfectly out of the reach of the Pilots’ diving goalkeeper. The Bruins defense effectively and consistently extinguished any offensive effort offered by their No. 1 ranked opponent. In the last 10 minutes of play, the Bruins managed to cut through the defense multiple times and executed twice more on scoring opportunities. The final whistle blew, ending an incredible first game as the Bruins defeated Providence 4-0.
“Beating the number one-seeded team gave the girls confidence to carry through the tournament,” Coach Chris Carmichael said. “All of the passing, communication, possession and finishing we have been working on since last May came together for this tournament.”
The only thing standing between the Bruins and a trip to the national title game was one more win against Ohio Christian. The Bruins slipped past Ohio Christian 1-0 in the regular season and were hoping to reproduce the same result. The Bruins came out with the same energy and control that held them together against Providence in the previous match. They quickly worked the ball up the field and commanded the flow of the game. It took less than two minutes for the Bruins to establish their lead, as Luttrell sent a pass to sophomore Jenn Wise, who laced a shot past the opposing keeper. Later in the half, junior Deanna Howard added her say to the game with a shot to put the Bruins up 2-0.
It was the Bruins defense that took the stage in the second half. Through a lock-down performance by the back line and multiple saves by junior goalkeeper Tori Anderson, the Bruins held on to complete their second clean sheet of the tournament. The Bruins advanced to the national championship, where they would have to defeat Clearwater Christian College in order to bring home the title.
The Bruins had faced Clearwater twice in the regular season, tying one match and losing the other 2-1. The importance of the game weighed heavy on both teams, as wet conditions and nerves played a factor at the start of the national championship game.
“We have been confident from the beginning of the season that we could get that far,” Carmichael said. “Now that the chance was given to them, the girls were not going to let it pass.”
Tori Hale, Clearwater’s forward, had been problematic for teams all season, but the Bruins were able to hold her back. Both teams’ offenses were stifled until the 36th minute, when Luttrell recorded the first shot of the game off a free kick that ricocheted off the crossbar. The score remained locked at zero for the entire first half.
The rain began in the second half, affecting both the field and players. Neither team dominated the ball, and play remained in the midfield for the majority of the game, but the defining moment came in the 76th minute when Rebecca Luttrell took advantage of her opportunity. She quickly worked around four defenders and netted what will likely be the most memorable goal of the year, ending her remarkable senior year on a high note.
The Bruins immediately switched to a strong defensive mindset and held out the game, securing one last clean sheet for the tournament. The Bruins were not scored on once during the tournament and brought the NCCAA national title home for the first time in BJU history.
“The girls played well this season,” Carmichael said. “Their passion is what carried them through this tournament. The seniors showed leadership and provided the spark when it was needed. They will be missed, but we are just as excited and confident for next season as we were for this one.”