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Cards Beat Demons, Advance to NCAA Championships

SoccerCONWAY, Ark. – For the second time in the past three years the Lamar University Cardinals are headed to NCAA Championships. Top-seeded LU defeated Northwestern State, 3-1, Sunday afternoon at the Bill Stephens Track and Soccer Complex for the tournament championship title and the Southland's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
Led by tournament MVP, Esther Okoronkwo, the Cardinals jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Northwestern State finished the game outshooting the Cardinals, 10-7, but had numerous rushed shots in the closing minutes. Of Northwestern's 10 shots only four were on target and all were defended save for one. LU finished with a higher percentage as the Cards forced Northwestern State to make a play on all but one.
Okoronkwo finished the day with two goals and one assist, while classmate Lucy Ashworth (all-tournament selection) added the other goal – it was the first of the game.
"This feels amazing," said LU head coach Steve Holeman. "Because of the adversity we faced and the 1-5 start just makes it this that much better. These ladies continued to work and march on and we just continued to take it one game at a time. I'm really proud of how they stuck with the process – game in and game out they continued to believe in what we're doing."
The Cardinals scored the game's opening goal in the 32nd minute after junior Esther Okoronkwo took the ball down the left side of the field and fed a nice pass to classmate Lucy Ashworth who tapped it in just past the goalkeeper in the game's 32nd minute.
The Cardinals attempted only three shots in the opening half, but all three were on goal, while Northwestern State could manage just one shot (which was off target) in the opening 45 minutes.
Big Red added to its lead six minutes into the second half when Okoronkwo scored an unassisted goal on a nifty play. Okoronkwo took the ball down the center of the field sidestepping three Demon defenders and then fired the shot past the Northwestern State goalkeeper. Okoronkwo added her second goal of the game less than four minutes later to give LU a 3-0 lead.
The third score appeared to be the knockout punch, but it woke up the Demons' offense. Northwestern State's Nicole Henry was able to sneak a shot past Erin Branch to get the tournament's second seed on the scoreboard in the game's 67th minute.
"In 2017, nobody knew about Lamar. We had just come off a losing season where we finished last in the league," said Holeman. "No one was expecting to play against us. When we won that regular season title none of our players had even been to the conference tournament so we may have been a little naïve but the next year everyone came after us. It was the same heading into this year we felt like everyone was coming for us and we had to be better. This is a special team."
Joining Okoronkwo and Ashworth on the 2019 Southland All-Tournament team were junior Madison Ledet and senior Macie McFarland.
The Cardinals will know their fate Monday during the NCAA Women's Soccer Selection Show. The show will begin at 4:30 (3:30 p.m. Beaumont time) p.m. and will be streamed on Fans can celebrate with the coaches and players Monday at the official watch party which is being held at Buffalo Wild Wings in Beaumont (on Dowlen Road).


Category: Sports