In a contest that featured a pair of evenly matched squads, the John Brown women's soccer team used a late strike from freshman Summer Holmes off a corner service to stave off No. 23 Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) in a 1-0 barn burner Nov. 18 at Alumni Field, vaulting the Golden Eagles into the NAIA National Championships Round of 16 in Foley, Ala.
Although goalless, the Tigers (12-5-4) already had the two best chances of the match in the second half denied by a goal-line clearance and a heroic save from senior Emily Dobbins as the Golden Eagles (18-2-1) answered both questions asked by the visitors, keeping the match level entering the final stages.
With momentum swinging between both sides throughout the afternoon, John Brown narrowly held a 12-11 shooting advantage, highlighting the see-saw battle after the squads had met 79 days earlier in Siloam Springs, a 2-1 John Brown win, courtesy of a strike from sophomore Aubrey Winter with three seconds remaining in the match.
With the clock nearing five minutes remaining, senior Lauren Walter's cross was denied by the Tigers defense, prompting a JBU corner kick from the right flag. On the second attempt, Winters crossed a dangerous service into the box and the sea of humanity that occupied the space.
Senior Gifte Pavatt was able to win a battle at the edge of the box and play a ball back to Holmes at the left elbow, and ready for the pass, Holmes launched an arching strike just inside the box up and over Olivet Nazarene keeper Meegan Randall to break the stalemate and hand the Golden Eagles a 1-0 lead in the 86th minute.
It was Holmes' first collegiate goal.
With the pressure intensified after the afternoon's first critical mistake, John Brown systematically maintained possession over the final few minutes, driving the ball into the corners. The Tigers were unable to cross the center line, propelling the Golden Eagles to their fourth NAIA National Championships final site in program history. The other three were in 2005, 2018 and 2020.
"I was so proud of the grit and heart our girls showed today," Head Coach Kathleen Paulsen said after picking up her fifth-career victory in the NAIA National Championships. "There were huge moments by individuals, but we also needed every single person on our team today. Olivet Nazarene is a very good side, and it was an even match. Exactly a picture of what a national tournament game should look like."
The first half featured a strong John Brown possession game in which the hosts out-shot Olivet Nazarene by a 7-2 margin, but neither team earned a close scoring chance while battling in the midfield. The second half, however, was a different story.
The Tigers pushed the agenda in the second half out of the halftime gates, and a long throw-in nearly gave the visitors the first goal of the match.
In the 52nd minute, off a gorgeous flip-throw-in from Hailey King from the left sidelines, the Tigers had numbers in the box, and Alaina Bahr nearly scored her third goal of the weekend, but freshman Brooklyn Hendricks came flying in behind Dobbins to clear the ball off the line just in time, while allowing Dobbins to jump on the loose ball just before Bahr had a second opportunity to deposit the extra chance.
Twenty minutes later in the 72nd, Dobbins faced the match's strongest direct opportunity and rose to the challenge. Off a failed clear, the ball bounced dangerously in the towards the top of the box. Sara Loichinger took a one-touch strike just before the ball settled on the floor, and ripped a sure strike to the upper right 90 of goal. Leaping to her left, Dobbins was able to get her left paw on the shot, pushing the strike just past the right post and out of harm's way.
John Brown finished the match edging out the Tigers in shot attempts, 13-11, after Olivet Nazarene produced a 9-6 edge in the second half.
Dobbins improved to 11-0-1 on the season with three saves while collecting her 10th clean sheet of the 2023 season.
The Golden Eagles improved to 12-0-1 at Alumni Field this season and 5-7-2 all-time in the NAIA National Championships. John Brown will face No. 9 Aquinas (Mich.) in the Round of 16, scheduled for Nov. 27 at Championship Stadium in Foley, Ala.
John Brown has faced the Saints just one time in program history, a 1-0 double-overtime, neutral site victory for the Golden Eagles back in 2005.