After two halves and two overtime periods ended in a 1-1 tie, Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) outscored the Lady Flames 4-1 in penalty kicks and advanced to the finals against second-ranked Lindsey Wilson Saturday evening.
Lee's national championship run ended after four consecutive titles. Back in 2003, the Lady Flames' first trip to the NAIA national tournament ended in penalty kicks. Lee will leave NAIA tournament competition the same way they came in with a heart-breaking PK elimination.
"Today was a tough day, but it has been an amazing journey to take with this team," said Yelton after his Lady Flames officially finished the season with a 21-1-2 record. "This is a very special group of people who will always be very important to me and I feel as proud of them today as I have been at any point in my coaching career."
Lee president Dr. Paul Conn probably spelled it out best when he noted at the end of the match, "this is a group of girls that had never lost in NAIA competition until today. That is something to be very, very proud of."
"I told the team yesterday that I'm proud of the fact that they are a family and that they care about each other a great deal. I believe that if anything this challenge and setback will just make us stronger and pull even closer," Yelton said.
The Tigers came out and took control of Friday's contest in the early moments. Jessica Higer put Olivet on top when she picked up a cross from Kelsey Warp and just put it under goalkeeper Leah Wilson near the far post.
Lee found some spark near the end of the first half but could never put the ball in the back of the net. The Tigers regained control in the early stages of the second 45 minutes. As expected, the Lady Flames regrouped and tied the thriller in the 68th minute when Ashley Aragona chipped a shot just over the head of Olivet keeper Wendy Espejel.
Lee actually out-shot Olivet 21-11. The Lady Flames had nine shots on target and the Tigers only had four. Olivet was awarded 14 total corner kicks and the Lady Flames 10.
It all came down to the PK's. The Tigers ripped all four of their attempts into the back of the net and the Lady Flames could convert only one. Olivet's keeper Espejel had three saves in the penalty kicks. She finished the game with seven saves, while Wilson totaled three for the Lady Flames.
"We have had a lot of good breaks go our way in the past and over the last four years the ball has bounced our way a lot," admitted Yelton. "Today it did not. We had a bad spell the first 15 minutes of the game and unfortunately that was probably the difference in a win and a loss today."
Yelton praised his seniors. "They have been a very special group and I am so proud of all they have accomplished. It has truly been a blessing to be a part of their lives and they have done more for me and this program than I can ever repay."
The coach went on to say "I think the first two games of the tournament took a real toll on us and physically I just think that we were starting to run low on energy. To get to the Final Four considering the quality of the first two teams we played is a significant accomplishment."
Friday's loss ended a remarkable streak of 23 straight national tournament wins by the Lee women's soccer teams.
Yelton's crew will leave the NAIA with a mark of 23 wins, three losses and three ties plus four straight national championships.