By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
The Master’s University women’s soccer team learned Monday it had earned an at-large berth to the NAIA national tournament and would be taking a cross-country flight in the coming days.
The Mustangs (12-5-3) will travel to West Palm Beach, Florida, this week to face Truett McConnell University of Georgia (18-2) on Friday in an NAIA Opening Round game at 8 a.m. PST. The game will be live streamed on the NAIA Network, and the winner will face host Keiser University on Saturday with a trip to the tournament’s final site in Alabama on the line.
Keiser is the tournament’s No. 2 overall seed.
This is TMU’s fifth appearance at the national tournament under head coach Curtis Lewis and fourth in the last seven years.
“This sets us up to have a chance to not only play more games together,” said senior goalie Lacey Lehman, “but also to share our faith and give glory to God on a larger stage with new teams.”
After losing 1-0 in the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament Thursday – against a Vanguard team that ultimately earned the NAIA’s No. 11 overall seed – the Mustangs went into the weekend feeling they had built a resume worthy of extending their season. But ultimately, they didn’t know the outcome.
“I think us beating Westmont helped put us in a good spot,” Lehman said Thursday of TMU’s win over the then-No. 6 Warriors last month. “But we really won’t know until Monday. I think things are going our way, with how other tournaments are playing out, but we’re trusting the Lord and hoping.”
That hope was rewarded Monday inside TMU’s locker room, where the team watched the NAIA selection show on a large projector screen.
When the news dropped, arms were raised in celebration.
Lewis, who took over as head coach in 2007, felt the moment was crucial for continuing to build a program that hadn’t been to nationals before 2010.
“At the end of the season to get on an airplane and go be part of a national tournament, this is great for all of our freshmen,” he said. “Last year’s freshmen didn’t get to experience that. When you experience this, it brings a hunger (to get back there).”
That was certainly the case for Lehman, who was part of TMU’s 2017 team, which won an NAIA Opening Round game and advanced to the final site in Alabama.
“That has been the goal of the senior class to lead this team to the national tournament,” she said. “We’re excited that we’ve been given that opportunity.”
Because the NAIA expanded the field for its women’s soccer tournament this year, the opening round now consists of 15 three-team brackets.
In the past, teams needed to win only one game to advance to the final site. That remains true for the tournament’s top 15 seeds. But, everyone else plays Friday, with the winner advancing to face their host one day later.
Mustang cross country heads to nationals
The Mustang men’s cross country team will compete at NAIA nationals in Vancouver, Washington, on Friday, and Arianna Ghiorso, of TMU’s women’s team, will run as an individual.
The men’s team, which features Golden Valley grad Daniel Rush, enters the 10:30 a.m. race ranked No. 9 nationally, but the group is aiming at the first top-four finish in program history.
The women’s race begins at 11:30 a.m. Check GoMustangs.com for updates.