LA MIRADA — An achievement eight years in the making for Vanguard University women's soccer coach Randy Dodge all but vanished in the span of 90 ill-fated minutes on Tuesday afternoon.
The Lions, who had won their first seven contests to, for the first time in school history, move atop the NAIA coaches' poll released Tuesday afternoon, played like a team with a target on its back in a 3-0 loss to Westmont at Biola.
The Golden State Athletic Conference opener marked the first loss in 13 contests against conference foes for the Lions, who were a perfect 10-0 in conference last season, then won two games to pocket the GSAC Tournament crown on their way to an NAIA quarterfinal appearance and an 18-2-1 record.
Two of those conference wins last season came against Westmont (7-0-1), which came in ranked No. 6 in the nation on Tuesday. Vanguard, playing a scheduled home game at Biola due to ongoing work to install a turf field at its on-campus facility, blanked the Warriors by a combined 5-0 margin last season.
This season, however, it was the visiting Warriors, one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NAIA coming into this week, that produced the clean sheet. It was the fourth straight shutout for the Warriors, who have now outscored foes, 15-3, this season.
"When you smash a team three straight times [counting a 1-0 overtime win in 2010 over Westmont, which had not beaten Vanguard since 2008], they are going to come in with a little venom," said Dodge, an eighth-year coach whose team had been ranked No. 2 most of the season and outscored its first seven opponents, 40-5. "[The Warriors] played great. Should they have beaten us? Yeah."
The Warriors opened the scoring in the 13th minute, when Vanguard All-American goalkeeper Lauren Terry sent a low kick that was intercepted by Jenny Martinez, who directed the ball to Sofia Smati. Smati booted the ball into the net from directly in front of the six-yard box.
"A horrendous mistake from our goalkeeper," Dodge said.
Kathryn Hornibrook doubled the margin with a booming shot from the top of the 18-yard box in the 37th minute and Sophie Fuller added the unassisted capper in the 64th minute.
"I thought we had the best chances in the first half, but we didn't put them away," Dodge said. "Then, we make a mistake against a good team, they follow that up with a great goal and we are chasing the game. In the second half, they were hardly on our side."
Vanguard senior All-American forward Jordan Davidson, last year's GSAC Player of the Year, came close to knotting the score in the 26th minute, when her high shot from the right wing was punched off the crossbar by Westmont goalkeeper Lindsey Smith (six saves).
A Davidson cross to Kayla Arenas, who came in with 10 goals and four assists, appeared fruitful, but Arenas could not get a foot on the drive that was close to waist-high when it got to her on the doorstep about 30 minutes in.
Arenas blasted a shot just wide of the cage in the final minute of the first half and the Lions' 11 shots also included a Davidson header set up by a 50-yard service from freshman Kelsea Arenado, that was saved by Smith.
Dodge praised the play of senior forward Jennifer Martin and sophomore defender Ashley McCutcheon for Vanguard, which is scheduled to play a conference "home" game against Hope International at Santa Ana Community College on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Vanguard is tentatively scheduled to play host to The Master's on Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. and has just two regular-season home games after that.
It is unclear when the playing field at Vanguard will be ready, prompting a quip from Dodge, when asked about the significance of the No. 1 ranking.
"When I took over eight years ago, we had never been ranked," Dodge said. The kids have been fantastic and laid a great foundation. [Fifth-year assistant coach] Ali Malaekeh has done a great job and our athletic director, Bob Wilson, has been fantastic. All that has enabled us to put a good product on the field; you know, not necessarily our own field …"