FORT MYERS, Fla. – Thanks to a 2-0 win over Kennesaw State on Friday afternoon, the Jacksonville University women’s soccer team will line up with the chance to earn a bid into the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The Dolphins used second half goals from Marie Weckhurst and Joy Grove to break open a scoreless match and roar into Sunday’s final.
The opening 45 minutes failed to create too many clear scoring chances, but Jacksonville spent a large chunk of the half pushing forward and threatening the Kennesaw State goal. Grove and Kaitlyn Bassett in particular found success linking up in KSU’s final third and stretching the Owl defense. A Bassett square ball within the opening five minutes allowed Jessica Cataldo-Ramirez to fire a shot that sailed high. Later on, Grove had a pair of shot attempts that went high but had Kennesaw State on alert.
The best chance of the first half came around the half-hour mark when Grove spotted Bassett ahead and played her forward down the right side. Bassett fended off a pair of Owl defenders but her angle on goal closed quickly and Olivia Sturdivant was able to make the save to keep the match level.
On the other side of the field, Sarah Sierra did her part to keep the Owls off the board. The junior goalkeeper made a diving effort to keep out a shot from Hannah Churchill midway through the opening half, and Katrina Frost later missed a chance to take the lead after Iyani Hughes played her free in the middle of the box with nine minutes remaining before the break.
The breakthrough came in the 66th minute for Jacksonville. Taking possession of the ball deep in midfield, Bassett was given room to run for more than 40 yards. As Kennesaw State finally began to collapse around her as she approached the 18-yard box, she sliced a pass low into the middle of the field that Weckhurst was able to slide for and poke past Sturdivant for the 1-0 edge.
Minutes later, Grove sealed the match for JU with a spectacular effort from 20 yards out. Cassie Elmore controlled the ball while being closely defended and was able to find Grove in the middle of the field. Grove dribbled to her right and sent a shot around a pair of defenders into the upper left corner of the net for her first goal of the season.
Despite not scoring a goal on the afternoon, Bassett led the Dolphins with seven shots in the match. Sierra made six saves for her fourth shutout of the season.
"The whole team really did a great job today," said Head Coach Brian Copham. "Sarah and the defensive group did a great job of keeping them off the board. They have some dangerous attacking players that they dealt with very well. Our forwards and attacking midfielders did an excellent job of pressing and creating chances to get the two goals late in the contest. Overall, I'm just very proud of the effort and looking forward to Sunday."
Jacksonville will face Florida Gulf Coast -- 2-0 winners over Mercer in Friday's other semifinal -- in the championship game on Sunday at 1 pm. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3.