COSTA MESA — The Vanguard University women's soccer team was already two goals ahead on its way to a 3-0 triumph Saturday when the Lions got a chance to show what they are all about this season.
Lions' junior forward Kayla Arenas was running onto a through ball that was rolling toward Embry-Riddle Aeronautical goalkeeper Brenna Quinn, who had charged off her line to try to thwart one of many Vanguard scoring threats.
Though it was obvious that Quinn would arrive at the ball well before Arenas, Vanguard Coach Randy Dodge yelled for Arenas to "keep going!" Arenas did exactly that and managed to deflect Quinn's subsequent attempt to clear the ball. The ricochet off Arenas' shins bounced back toward the goal line, as Quinn drifted out of position to leave Arenas with an open net.
The resulting goal in the 71st minute capped the scoring in the first-round game of the NAIA Tournament. The victory, the 13th in a row for the No. 2-ranked Lions, allowed them to advance to the 16-team, single-elimination bracket that will unfold beginning Nov. 26 at Orange Beach, Ala.
Dodge's two-word exhortation also summed up the collective consciousness of a team in pursuit of an ultimate goal.
"We're excited," Dodge said of his program's second trip to the NAIA "final-site" Tournament as the No. 3 national seed. "This [first-round] game wasn't much fun, due to the fact that so much was riding on it. But to get an opportunity to travel with this group again is exciting and we're pumped up about it. Hopefully, we can make some noise [in Alabama]."
The only previous time Vanguard (17-2) made it this far, it suffered a 6-1 trouncing by then-Golden State Athletic Conference rival Point Loma Nazarene in its Alabama debut.
"The worst loss in my seven seasons as women's coach here," Dodge said. "We got smashed and we deserved to get smashed. It did leave a bitter taste."
The Lions have been the team doing the smashing this season. They have not lost since Sept. 22 and have outscored teams, 42-2, during the winning streak. The GSAC regular-season and tournament champions have outscored opponents, 60-7, this season, and Saturday marked the Lions' 14th shutout in 2012.
"Everything we do comes from the cornerstone of hard work." said Dodge, whose team posted a 20-5 shot advantage against the Arizona-based Eagles (13-5-3), who came in on an eight-game unbeaten streak. Embry-Riddle had been shut out twice previously this season, one of those coming courtesy of Vanguard, which won their regular-season meeting, 2-0, on Sept. 1.
"We're about battling and battling and battling and [the players] did that," Dodge said. "And we have some talent, which helps. We have a lot of things that can't be taught and we're deep. That's why we think we can make some noise [in Alabama]. Hopefully, we won't be one-and-done this time."
Vanguard freshman defender Ashley McCutcheon opened the scoring in the 37th minute Saturday, booming in a shot from in front following a scramble off a corner kick.
Lindsey Holman-Kelley punched in an assist from fellow senior Rachel Rucireta in the 56th minute to provide some breathing room for the hosts.
Arenas' 11th goal of the season, second on the team behind junior Jordan Davidson's 16, gives her a goal in each of Vanguard's three preseason contests and seven goals in the last six games.
Davidson, who matched Veronica Aguilar with a team-best four shots, saw her streak of consecutive games with at least one goal end at seven.
Vanguard sophomore goalie Lauren Terry made three saves to anchor a defense that also included strong work by Megan Hill, Angela Hook, Rucireta, McCutcheon, and Charlotte Wisniewski.
Additionally, senior Lauren Evans, who spearheaded the defense in the regular season but missed the first two postseason games after undergoing an appendectomy on Nov. 2, returned to action to help limit the Eagles.
"[Evans] gave it all for her team, even though she is playing through pain," Holman-Kelley said. "[Terry] steps up in big games and it's pretty hard to score on our defense."
Holman-Kelley also echoed her coach's aforementioned encouragement to keep going.
"We play as a team, we play as one and we're excited to go to Alabama and hopefully win a national championship," Holman-Kelley said.