By RON SMITH
WESTMONT SPORTS WRITER
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — A pair of early goals by Katie Stella and a second-half goal by Katie DeMillo propelled Westmont (13-1-5) into the quarterfinals of the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship.
The Warriors, ranked 16th in the NAIA and seeded ninth in the tournament, prevailed 3-1 Tuesday over the 15th-ranked and eighth-seeded Patriots of Cumberlands (Ky.) (16-6-2).
“Honestly, this game happened the way we envisioned it,” said Westmont head coach Jenny Jaggard. “We thought we could get some early goals and discourage them.”
The first goal came in the 10th minute when Stella took advantage of an errant pass from the goalkeeper.
“As a team, we are always working on our high press,” noted Stella. “Reese (Davidson) and I came out knowing that we wanted to get on them from the very beginning — knowing that most teams are not used to being under so much pressure on their back line. That is exactly what we did and luckily, I got the opportunity to cut off a pass and saw that the keeper was out a little.
“I was very off balance when I hit it, but decided to hit it and see what happened, and it worked out.,” she said.
Stella launched her shot from about 25 yards out on the left-hand side.
Jaggard praised the athlete. “Stella had a day. She is very crafty and had great little finishes. The kind of finishing that Stella does matches up with their keeper. I’m not surprised she was able to get that done today.”
The Warriors scored again, just five minutes later. Unlike the first goal that was unassisted, the second goal was a team effort.
“Shayna (Stock) has a great long throw, and we have been working on ways to play off of that and get it more in the box. Bling (Grace Hotaling) got the first header, the first flip back,” Stella said. “Reese (Davidson) did a little touch, and I saw it rolling in front of the goal, going to the keeper. I sprinted and tried to get my foot on it and I did.”
“It is a continued build of our confidence for our team,” said Jaggard of the early goals. “We are coming into our own and learning how to finish these quality opportunities. It is a really good feeling at halftime when you are on the scoreboard. We think our team has decided that we like that and we are motivated to score early.
“Cumberlands is not used to coming from behind, so I felt like it would be a big mental struggle for them that would put us in the driver’s seat today. So we wanted to press and make that happen as early as possible.”
Contributing significantly to the first-half success was Westmont goalkeeper Kailey Meyer. In both the 29th and 35th minute, Meyer thwarted two one-on-one scoring attempts by the Patriots. She then added two more saves in the second half.
“Kailey was fantastic today,” said Jaggard. “She has gotten sharper and sharper as we have gone through the season. She had some big saves for us today. She was really composed, which is a great thing to see from your goalkeeper and your captain this time of year.”
Up 2-0 at the half, the Warriors wanted to be sure they didn’t let up.
“It is easy to get comfortable,” acknowledged Stella, “but we talked as a team, especially at halftime, about playing with the mentality that we are down 1-0 or tied at 0-0. That helps us keep our fire, keep our fight. We can’t get too comfortable or mistakes happen. Even though we did let a goal in, our fire still showed with the way we immediately responded.”
In the 73rd minute, Jayden Boelter was able to get one-on-one with Meyer and get the ball past her for the Patriots’ lone goal. However, the Warriors responded less than one minute later to restore their two-goal advantage.
“Grace Duckens and I had a few passes to each other and broke the defense down,” described DeMillo about her second goal of the season. “I ended up in front of the goal and Duck tapped me a ball and I tapped it in the goal.”
“The ball that Duckens drives end line and knocks back showed the patience and foresight she has to do that instead of trying to cram it herself,” said Jaggard. “She is a really good teammate.
“It was a good team effort, today, with a lot of people putting in a lot of work.”
Today the Warriors will take on top-ranked and top-seeded William Carey of Mississippi, who comes into the contest with a record of 20-0. The Lady Crusaders – winners of the Southern States Conference championship – have outscored their opponents 102-11 this season.
Westmont and Carey have only met on two prior occasions. In 1999, the two teams met in the quarterfinals of the national championship with Westmont prevailing 3-1. Westmont went on to win its second national title that year.
More recently, Westmont and Carey played an early-season game at Georgia Gwinnett. In September 2019, Carey was the No. 1-ranked team in the nation when Westmont handed the Lady Crusaders a 3-0 loss. It proved to be Carey’s only loss of the 2019 season — a year in which they reached the semifinals of the national tournament before being eliminated on penalty kicks.
Since that game, Carey has had only one loss, which came in the final of the 2020 National Championship.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. PST. Links to the live pay-per-view broadcast are available at athletics.westmont.edu/coverage.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.