FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sophomore Melissa Arnold’s (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek Regional HS) first goal this season in the 37th minute coupled with classmate Shannen Wacker’s (Parker, Colo./Ponderosa HS) program record 11th goal in the 85th minute led the top-seeded FGCU women’s soccer team to a 2-0 win over sixth-seeded Jacksonville at the FGCU Soccer Complex to advance to Sunday’s championship game against second-seeded Mercer.
Sunday’s A-Sun final will be a rematch of the 2011 championship game also held at the FGCU Soccer Complex in which the Eagles defeated Mercer, 1-0, in the 106th minute of double-overtime on a goal by Wacker. The Bears advanced to the championship earlier in the day with a 3-0 win over fifth-seeded North Florida. Sunday’s kick-off is slated for 1 p.m.
“I’m really proud of this group. This was a great win and the first time these seniors were able to beat Jacksonville in their four-year careers,” said head coach Jim Blankenship, who celebrated his birthday on Friday night with his 70th career win at FGCU. “These are important times and the girls should enjoy the win tonight, and we’ll start getting ready for Mercer tomorrow.”
Currently on a 21-game home unbeaten against A-Sun opponents that includes postseason play, the Eagles will look to become the first team since UCF (2001-03) to win back-to-back tournament championships and the first team to win two-straight tournament championships as the host since UCF did in 1998 and 1999.
The reigning A-Sun Tournament MVP and an All-Conference first team selection this season, Wacker’s goal was her 11th of the year, equaling Lindsay Haw’s program single-season record set in 2007.
In the 34th minute, freshman Kaitlyn Parker (Palm Harbor, Fla./Clearwater, Central Catholic HS) was fouled inside of the box which gave FGCU a penalty kick and left the duties up to Arnold. A starting forward on last year’s championship team who now starts at right back, Arnold managed to hit the inside of the right post and beat the keeper to make it a 1-0 game.
Still holding a 1-0 lead, FGCU played the final 24 minutes with a man-advantage after Alexandra Lee was issued a red card for a tackle on a breakaway by Wacker just outside the goal box.
Despite being a player down, the Dolphins applied major pressure on the FGCU defense and nearly had the equalizer a pair of times. The first chance came in the 75th minute when defender Miranda Fyfe pushed up and drilled a right-footed shot off the left side of the cross bar from just outside the goal box.
JU’s second bid at tying the game came just three minutes later when Kaitlyn Bassett beat FGCU keeper Brittany Brown (Rochester, N.Y./Greece Athena HS), but the ball was headed off the goal line by Parker and cleared by Emma Blackwell (Jenks, Okla./Jenks HS) to end the threat.
After dodging the two good scoring chances from the Dolphins, the Eagles received the insurance goal off the foot of Wacker. A cross by senior Julia Martin (Bayport, N.Y./Bayport Blue Point HS) was flicked by freshman Shea Rhoney (Lithia, Fla./Newsome HS) right to Wacker, who made it 2-0 at the 85:06 mark.
Brown made four saves and recorded her eighth shutout with the win tonight, improving her record to 12-2-3 on the year.
The win is FGCU’s first-ever over Jacksonville, breaking a streak of four straight ties between the two teams. Postseason eligible for the first time in 2011, the Green and Blue are now 3-0 all-time in the A-Sun Tournament.
Sunday’s A-Sun Championship game can be seen for free on A-Sun TV through a link on www.FGCUATHLETICS.com. Fans can also get in-game updates through twitter @FGCUEagles and @FGCU_WSoccer.