There has never been a larger target on the back of a team as play begins in the 29th annual NAIA Women's Soccer National Championships Monday at the Orange Beach Sportsplex in Orange Beach, Ala.
"We have an experienced group of players, and playing in a national tournament is not a new experience for them,” coach Matt Yelton admitted as he spoke about his team's "Drive For Five."
“Hopefully with their knowledge of what it is like to play on the road in a tough environment, we will be able to go out and put in a good performance on Monday. We have been playing well the last few weeks and we have a very committed group of players on our squad, but we know that we will have to give our best effort and if we do that I will be satisfied with our season no matter what the results are."
Yelton’s club is not only the four-time defending national champion and top-seeded, his Lady Flames boast a 26-3-2 all-time championship record and are currently riding an unprecedented 21-match championship unbeaten streak following a 5-0 opening round victory against Montreat (N.C.) on Nov. 17. Lee will kick off action in Orange Beach on Monday against No. 16 Northwood (Fla.) at 5 p.m.
A national title this season would give Lee five-straight, which would be the second-most consecutive national titles for a women's soccer program amongst all divisions. NCAA Division I North Carolina holds the current record of 12 straight titles from 1986-1997.
"Northwood has a very strong group of players and in all of the scouting reports and information we have been able to gather, we know we are going to have to be at our very best in order to advance in the tournament,” said the Lee coach. “They are very well coached, have excellent attacking players, and are very strong in goal. That is a recipe for a very good team and their results over the course of the season have shown that they have a lot of quality in their team."
Leaving the NAIA and moving on to NCAA Division II with five consecutive titles will not be easy. No. 2 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) seems to always be standing in the way. The Blue Raiders are the most experienced team in the field with 14 all-time appearances. The Kentucky team is 24-12-2 in national championship matches, including a pair of national titles in 2004 and 2006.
Outside of Lindsey Wilson, No. 8 Concordia (Ore.), a team Lee defeated in the championship match last season, is the only other final site club with 10 or more national championship appearances. The Cavaliers are 22-11-2 in their 12 trips, but join No. 4 Oklahoma City as the only final site qualifiers that have played in the decisive game, but failed to win the banner. Concordia will square off against unseeded Cumberland (Tenn.) at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
"We have had a good week of practice and are looking forward to Orange Beach,” said Yelton before his club departed for the national tourney, “but I think all of us know that this is not a vacation. It is a chance to go and work hard in a nice location and hopefully come home with a championship."
NeuLion, the NAIA's official video streaming company of 12 select NAIA national championship events, will be broadcasting all final site games of the 2012 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championships. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-tournament pass is available for$29.95. To order go to http://www.naia.org//ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=27900&ATCLID=205423235.