ORANGE BEACH, Fla. — As the Lee women’s soccer team edges closer to leaving the NAIA for the NCAA after this season, coach Matt Yelton’s 21-1-1 Lady Flames got a needed day of rest and relaxation on Thursday before facing 19-3 Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) in the opening match of the 2012 Final Four of the NAIA National Championship on Friday at 2 p.m. EST.
The winner of game one will face the winner of game two, Spring Arbor (Mich.) and Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) for the title on Saturday at 6 p.m. EST.
“The day of rest definitely came at a good time and we hopefully will be able to perform well tomorrow,” said Yelton. “But Olivet also got a day of rest and I expect them to battle just like they have all tournament long. The Lady Flames defeated the Tigers on Sept. 15, 1-0.
“Having seen Olivet earlier in year, we have developed a lot of respect for them and what they can produce,” added the coach, who has four straight national championships to his credit. I think their style of soccer will be different and both teams will look to pass the ball a bit more than what we have faced so far.”
Yelton admits nothing has come easy in victories over Northwood and Concordia in the first two matches at the Sportsplex. “The only other tournament I can compare this experience to would be in 2010 when we played Mobile and Robert Morris to open the tournament. But I think the argument could be made that this is certainly as tough a pair of teams as we have ever opened up against.”
Seeing Olivet, Spring Arbor and certainly not No. 2-ranked Lindsey Wilson in the Final Four comes as no shock to the Lee coach. “I don’t really think any of the teams could be called a surprise, as all four spent large portions of the year in the top 10 of the national poll, and I really do believe the championship is up for anybody to win.”
NOTE: The weather has been a key factor over the past three years in the championship events held in Decatur, Ala., but the conditions have been near perfect in Orange Beach. The plush Sportsplex facility is in excellent condition and the temperature will reach near 70 on Friday and into the mid 70s on Saturday. No rain is in the forecast. But those coming for the Saturday final, should the Lady Flames still be in the mix, should bring a jacket. Temperatures cool quickly after sundown.