FORT MYERS, Fla. – For the fifth time in six seasons of eligibility, the FGCU women's soccer team (14-4-1) is heading back to the NCAA Tournament as the top-seeded Eagles received a pair of goals from Ali Rogers to claim a 2-0 victory over 2nd-seeded Lipscomb (12-5-2) in the ASUN Championship Final Sunday afternoon at the FGCU Soccer Complex.
Rogers (Naples, Fla./Gulf Coast HS) scored in the 33rd minute and finished her brace in the 80th minute as FGCU defeated Lipscomb at The Nest for the second-straight year in the ASUN Championship Final. The redshirt-senior midfielder, who scored twice before tearing her ACL in her very first collegiate game – which also took place at home – was named the Championship MVP after scoring twice in the 2016 Final.
The tournament title was the 55th Division I regular season or tournament title for FGCU since 2007 and marked the 24th NCAA Tournament appearance as a team or individual since the 2011-12 year. FGCU will learn its opening-round NCAA Tournament opponent on Monday at 4:30 p.m. when the NCAA Selection Show airs live on NCAA.com. The Eagles will be hosting a public gathering to watch the show on campus in the Alico Arena Hospitality Suite.
"There were a lot of nerves in the first few minutes especially on our end," said head coach Jim Blankenship following his program's third-straight ASUN Tournament title. "Once we started connecting passes though it got a lot better. It felt like our mentality tonight was completely different. We played with confidence tonight and with a great urgency. We refused to give up a goal tonight."
The current crop of seniors added to another impressive run for the women's soccer program. With Sunday afternoon's win, FGCU has not lost to a conference foe in any regular season or post season tournament since 2012, a streak that has now reached 35 games, good for 10th in NCAA history.
A relatively timid first half picked up around the 20-minute mark and turned drastically in FGCU's favor moments later. Following multiple Lipscomb turnovers in its own defensive third, the Eagles earned a corner in the 33rd minute which led to Rogers heading home her fourth goal of the season to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. FGCU almost doubled its lead in the 39th minute, but the Green and Blue settled for a one goal advantage heading into the break. The Green and Blue capitalized on the lone chance of the second 45 minutes as Rogers, sporting a new pair of cleats, cleaned up a loose ball in the box following yet another FGCU corner for the 2-0 final.
Tabby Tindell (Ocala, Fla./Trinity Catholic HS) got the Eagles going early in the contest, forcing ASUN Goalkeeper of the Year Anna Buhigas to make her first save of the afternoon during the opening 10 minutes.
With both teams looking to possess and not wanting to concede an early goal, Lipscomb had its first good look at net in the 28th minute, an Ellen Lundy shot saved by Melissa Weck (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza HS).
It was around this time that FGCU began to gain control. With three turnovers in the Lipscomb defensive third, the Eagles produced a shot by Paulina Speckmaier (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep/Florida) that was saved by Buhigas before the final turnover ultimately resulted in a corner for the Green and Blue.
Meaghan Mulligan (Freehold, N.J./Colts Neck High School/Tennessee) served the ball toward the back post, where Rogers soared above a crowded box and put the home side in front with a powerful header back across goal. The first goal of the afternoon was Rogers' fourth of the season, a new career-high for the ASUN First Team honoree.
The Green and Blue continued to press forward as Tindell again tested Buhigas in the 36th minute of play, but the goalkeeper had her near post covered to keep the Eagles in front by only one.
The FGCU lead nearly doubled again in the 39th minute following a scramble in the box, originating by a Megan Young (White Lake, Mich./Walled Lake Northern HS) run which saw her beat a pair of Lady Bisons defenders. Young was dispossessed in the box, but it fell for Tori Dorr (Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach HS) who beat Buhigas only for her shot to ring off the post. Speckmaier was in the right place to collect the loose ball, but her effort went high as FGCU settled for a 1-0 advantage heading into the break.
Speckmaier attempted to relieve a bit of the pressure early in the second half, testing Buhigas from distance only for the goalkeeper to keep the deficit at one once again.
It wasn't until the 60th minute that Lipscomb would gain some momentum. Lundy was the first to make FGCU fans worry, as the forward found herself open on the far post only for her volley to go over the bar with Weck in excellent position. Olivia Doak and Brooke Brenner both had clean looks at goal, however neither would put the ball on frame.
With 10 minutes remaining in the match, FGCU earned another corner and Mulligan took her time with the clock winding down. The midfielder's service was put into a dangerous area, leading to a panicked clearance from a Lipscomb defender which deflected off Speckmaier to Rogers. The Naples-native did not hesitate, directing the ball toward goal with her first touch and into the back of the net, all but securing the win.
As time wound down and with Lipscomb sending everyone forward, Speckmaier had one last look from beyond midfield. The Miami-native saw Buhigas well off her line and decided to take a chance, from 55 yards only for it to roll wide of goal.
Weck made one final save in the final 30 seconds, ensuring her ASUN-best 10th clean sheet of her freshman season and as the clock struck zero, FGCU rushed the field to celebrate its fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament in six seasons.
FGCU outshot Lipscomb 16-9 on the afternoon, while Weck was forced to make three saves to run her goal against average to an ASUN-best 0.73.
Following the contest, Ashley Parks (St. Louis, Mo./Lafayette HS), Speckmaier, Tindell, and Rogers were named to the All-Tournament Team with Rogers earning Championship MVP honors.
2016 ASUN All-Tournament Team
Ali Rogers, FGCU - Championship MVP
Ashley Parks, FGCU
Paulina Speckmaier, FGCU
Tabby Tindell, FGCU
Kim Fincher, Kennesaw State
Carly Pressgrove, Kennesaw State
Ellen Lundy - Lipscomb
Brooke Brenner - Lipscomb
Niamh Rawlins - Lipscomb
Emily Plotz, Stetson
Riana Metzger, Stetson