GVSU set to play UWF in championship game
The preview; one team gets a loss, the other a title
GVL Staff Writer
Augusta, GA – In ancient Greek mythology, the Argonauts were a band of heroes who quested long and far on their ship, the Argo, in search of the a much revered Golden Fleece. In ancient Greek mythology, there were no fabled freshwater sailing Lakers from Michigan to contend for the prize.
The Argonauts of the University of West Florida and the Lakers of Grand Valley State University have never before met on the pitch – or on the seas – although the schools have traced paths plenty. The programs have 11 Final Fours between them, have combined to win three of the last four national championships and either UWF or GVSU has made an appearance in every title game since 2009. GVL / Robert Mathews Jenny Shaba weaving past an AIC defender.
“It’s a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2, so that’s what you like to see,” GVSU head coach Dave Dilanni said. “If you’re going to win a national championship, you have to play the best and we’ve been circling around each other for five or six years now. It just came to fruition that we’re going to play this year.”
The final two teams still afloat in Division II soccer, GVSU and UWF have set a collision course for Blanchard Park Field in Evans, GA for noon Saturday. Only one will travel home with an unblemished record, a national championship trophy and the right to lay claim to a perfect season – the collegiate soccer golden fleece.
“Our girls are excited and they believe in the goals, their roles, the journey and the cause,” Dilanni said. “The seniors want to get up and win their second national championship, the rest of the team, their first, and they want to be successful for each other.”
The Season and the Semifinal
In a trip to Savannah, GA early to kick off the season, both UWF and GVSU performed an unknowing and incidental litmus test.
GVSU defeated then National Soccer Coll No. 13 ranked Columbus State 2-0 and played to a scoreless tie in double-overtime against No. 5 Armstrong. West Florida beat Columbus State 3-2 in overtime and tied Armstrong 1-1 in double-overtime.
“I’ve told them all along we’re going to be a better team in October, hopefully November, than we are right now,” Dilanni remarked back in September.
Both squads have unquestionably grown since. GVSU handily defeated American International College 4-1 on Thursday to advance to the final and UWF played in with a 2-1 victory over Western Washington University three and a half minute into an overtime period, just as the they had defeated Saint Rose, 2-1, in overtime in the semifinals last year en route to the national title.
“There’s a ton of excitement, some nerves, but at the end of the day, we’re the last two teams standing in the country and that in itself is such an accomplishment,” GVSU junior forward Jenny Shaba said. “We’ve already past he hardest point, just getting here, and I think tomorrow we just have to play our game, have fun, and enjoy every second of it.”
By the stars
If awards and accolades were buried treasure, both UWF and GVSU would have plenty to burry.
Three Lakers were named All-Americans Friday – senior defender and tri-captain Kayla Kimble to the first team, and Shaba and freshman midfielder Marti Corby to the second. Three Argos also made the 40 member student-athlete list – senior forward Chelsea Palmer to the first team, and seniors Sarah Story, a keeper, and midfielder Shelby Bush to the second – all for the second time.11966_wsoccer_rgb19p
“Going in into the year, (making the first team) was one of my top goals and to actually hear that I got it was very exciting,” Kimble said. “It was a big accomplishment and to find out just after we advanced to the championship was special.”
Head coach Joe Bartlinski came to UWF in 2001, and after 13 seasons with the program holds a career record of 221-27-16 (.867). Dilanni, who took the job with GVSU is 220-18-18 (.895) after 11 seasons. Both have collected multiple coach of year accolades, including this year.
Kimble, who helped spearhead a defensive unit that posted 20 shutouts for GVSU this season will contend with fellow first team All-American Palmer, the 2012 national player of the year who leads an aggressive UWF attack with 40 points.
“I feel really good about our chances,” Kimble said. “Winning 4-1 in a semifinal game is exceptionally good, so we’re all hyped up on that win and we’re going to stick to that game plan. We’re fully prepared and ready to go.”
Shaba, the GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year, played a primary role in the opening match of the Final Four and notched a pair of goals to bring her season total to 16, but will combat Story, one of the nation’s premier keepers, in what might be the most monumental and meaningful match of their respective careers.
“We just had practice this morning (Friday); we talked about how we were going to defend UWF, went through set pieces and I think we’re just trying to emulate the same mindset we had when we went into AIC,” Shaba said. “The sooner the game comes around, the better.”
Corby, one of only two freshman to be honored as an All-American, struggled to find her shot early in the season, but has scored five goals and dished out three assists, all three coming in the semifinal, in the last six games. That’s 13 postseason points and 11 goals and seven helpers contributed by Corby in 24 matches this year. On the other end of the class spectrum and the field, UWF third leading point scorer Shelby Brush will challenge her less-seasoned counterpart.
“I never would have guessed (that I’d be named an All-American),” Corby said. “I knew that the team could make it this far in the tournament, but I didn’t know how much I’d be playing or if I’d have a big role on this team – now, we’re here. I’ve just tried to play aggressive and confident and it really is all my teammates that have made it comfortable and easy for me to step in, both on and off the field.”
“I wouldn’t want to go through a season without going on to the tournament and as far as putting together a full game, that was it (against AIC). We were really wearing them down, getting anything we wanted and we hope to repeat that effort again Saturday.”
By the numbers
“The styles aren’t similar, but the quality, success and how we build our programs are,” Dilanni said. “It’s going to be a very good game.”
Numbers never lie and if they’re any indication, Dilanni won’t have, either.
The Argonauts have scored 54 goals, allowed 13 and outshot their opponents 375-182 heading into the championship game. The Lakers have netted a nation high 86 goals, allowed a nation low four and outshot opponents 600-132.
17 different Lakers have scored at least a goal for GVSU, 16 Argonauts for UWF. The Lakers leading point scorer, Jenny Shaba, has 16 goals, the sixth highest total in the country, and 12 assists to her credit. The Argonauts leading point scorer, Palmer, has recorded 12 goals and 16 assists.
UWF senior keeper Sarah Story has made 56 saves to go with a .56 goals against average, helping West Florida to win four consecutive games in the 2013 NCAA Tournament by one goal.
GVSU senior keeper Abbey Miller has made 55 to go with a .17 GAA and 15 individual shutouts, including a 13-game, 1,228:08-minute Division II record scoreless streak.
When the Lakers have the ball
Of the Lakers’ six leading goal scorers, four are freshmen, a testament to the upperclassmen, as many have taken a step back statistically to let others shine.
“We have such great seniors on this team,” Corby said. “They’ve helped unify our team and there’s no drama on or off the field. They’ve helped connect everyone in every class, and that’s helped us in the long run.”11967_wsoccer_rgb20p
Sharing the load and building offense from a sturdy base defense will be crucial to the Lakers’ success Saturday, as it has been all year.
“I think there’s very contrasting styles in this game,” Dilanni said. “We like to possess the ball and build out of the back. We want to keep the ball, we want to make them have to defend for 90 minutes so they have less energy to get forward in the attack, but saying it and doing are two different things.”
When the Argos have the ball
Powered by a pair of explosive senior forwards, UWF will once again rely upon Jamaica native Sashana Campbell, who scored both of her team’s goals on Thursday, and Chelsea Palmer.
” West Florida wants to get the ball forward to their playmakers and put pressure on you with those players with pace,” Dilanni said. “They play with a great pace and they’re very, very aggressive. We’re going to have to be very careful on set pieces and keep their forwards in front of us.
GVSU X-factor: Depth
“We’re hoping that our depth is going to be a factor once again,” Dilanni said. “To be able to play 90 minutes and push their starters.”
Only three Lakers – played a full 90 minutes Thursday, although 20 different student-athletes entered the game for GVSU.
“We respect their program, we respect their defensive line and they also have a very good goal keeper who doesn’t seem to get rattled in tough situations, but we feel pretty confident that they’re not going to be able to hang with us end line to end line for 90 minutes,” Shaba said.
UWF X-factor: Incumbent Status
In basketball, the team that wins last holds the court until their beaten. The same rule applies frequently in sport. Both GVSU and UWF have plenty of big game experience, but look for the Argonauts to hold a slight composure advantage in the first half.
“No matter how experienced you are, you’re going to have butterflies and nerves going into a national championship game, but you hope that the moment the ball is kicked, that those nerves become excitement and energy and focus,” Dilanni said. “If we were going to succumb to inexperience and youth, I think that would have occurred a long time ago. “
GVSU 2, WFU 1
Call it a hunch, call it bias, but few teams in the history of Division II soccer have looked better on paper than the 2013 Lakers. Few teams are more cohesive, on and off the field. Few programs, in any division, have been as successful as the GVSU women’s soccer program at GVSU.
“There’s three things that really stand out with this group,” Dilanni said, comparing his 2013 team to title squads of 2009 and 2010. “One is our good defense. They just don’t allow any easy shots. Teams have to work for every opportunity.”
Two, is their competitive spirit and their will to win. They could care less about stats. They just want to win. And lastly, they just get along so well. The team chemistry is outstanding. I don’t know if that attributes to more wins, but it sure makes for a fun ride.”
One of those few programs happens to be defending champion UWF, and baring anything more than the forecasted scattered showers, expect a gritty fight to finish as both GVSU and UWF battle down the plank.
“It won’t be easy, it wasn’t last year, but that’s why we came here – to play the best,” Palmer said. “May the best team win.”