ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – The Spring Arbor University women’s soccer team capped off an incredible season when it knocked off the No. 1 ranked defending champs, Lindsey Wilson College (Ky.), 3-0 in the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Final on Saturday.
The Cougars used two first half goals from sophomore Aubrey Schierbeek (Hudsonville, MI/Unity Christian) and freshman Bethany Balcer (Hudsonville, MI/Unity Christian) – scoring less than two minutes apart – to earn the program’s first-ever NAIA national title.
Lindsey Wilson College (20-2-2) entered the match with 17 goals this postseason – tying the record for most tallies in a single national tournament. However, the Cougar defense led by senior goalkeeper Sarah Yancer (Freeland, MI/Freeland) refused to surrender a goal to the Blue Raiders giving the team its 10th consecutive shutout.
“Our defense has really come a long way this year,” said head coach Jason Crist. “They are playing confidently and all together. All credit to Lindsey Wilson College, as they are a fantastic program. They are the bench mark for NAIA soccer, and for us to get a 3-0 victory over them in the final is just a huge accomplishment.”
With the shutout, Spring Arbor University became the only team in NAIA history to make it through the tournament without conceding a single goal.
“We played great team defense from the front to the back,” Crist continued. “We have been able to capitalize early in matches and play from ahead. That makes things a lot easier and we made Lindsey [Wilson College] chase us tonight, and we were able to stay organize and keep them off the scoreboard. I have tremendous respect for the Blue Raiders and for Drew.”
The Cougars started scoring in the 13th minute when Balcer found Schierbeek for the early goal. Balcer brought the ball into the attacking third, beating three Lindsey Wilson College defenders, before slipping a pass to Schierbeek who fired a shot that was redirected and ended up finding the back of the net.
Less than two minutes later, SAU earned a corner kick and sophomore Sarah Klunder (Grandville, MI/Grandville Calvin Christian) delivered a perfect ball in front of the goal that found the head of Balcer, and the standout freshman put it past the LWC goalkeeper.
Klunder and Balcer would connect one more time on another corner kick in the 54th minute to give put the match out of reach.
The win also marked the team’s first win over Lindsey Wilson College in 12 all-time meetings. The Cougars earned a 2-2 draw with the Blue Raiders earlier this season. The two teams previously met in the postseason in 2012 when LWC defeated SAU in the national semifinal matchup.
“I am so proud of the way our women competed this week,” said Crist. “The players not only showed how fiercely competitive they are, but they also lived the mission of both our university and our soccer program by being a clear beacon for Christ on the field, in the hotel and in the Orange Beach community. I could not be more proud of them, what they have committed to and what they stand for. They truly are relentless in their pursuit of excellence and their desire to glorify God with their gifts.”
Balcer was named the Select Sport America-NAIA Championship Most Valuable Player after recording five goals through the tournament giving her 30 for the season. Meanwhile, Yancer earned Select Sport America-NAIA Championship Outstanding Defensive Player after posting five clean sheets with 16 saves.
Four Cougars were named to the All-Tournament Team. Joining Balcer and Yancer were senior Kristina Sobel (Shelby Township, MI/Dakota) and junior Corrie Good (Caledonia, MI/Caledonia).
The team’s five seniors – Shannon Balcer (Hudsonville, MI/Unity Christian), Nikki Bonnema (Grand Rapids, MI/South Christian), Olivia Clark (Ann Arbor, MI/Pioneer), Sobel and Yancer – went out on top and ended their careers as the winningest class in program history.
The record-breaking season for Spring Arbor (23-2-1, 9-0-0 CL) ended with a program-best 23 wins, including a record 19-match winning streak. The Cougars also set a new benchmark with 83 goals scored.