With chilly, rainy weather expected next week in Decatur, Ala., the Lee University women's soccer team is set to try to win the program's fourth consecutive NAIA national championship.
Although the Lady Flames are built for speed, quickness and precision, they have won the last two titles in difficult weather conditions since the tournament was moved to Decatur. They have overcome tough winds, extremely wet fields and low-40s temperatures as well as the other talented teams in the final 16.
Third-seeded Lee (19-2) faces Houghton (17-3-1) at noon EST Monday, and the winner will play again at that time Wednesday against sixth-seeded Olivet Nazarene (17-2-2) or 11th seed Embry-Riddle (17-2-1).
Lady Flames coach Matt Yelton said earlier this week that this is "probably the deepest tournament we have ever had in terms of the quality of the 16 teams that are left. We will have to be at our best right from the start, as Houghton is a very dangerous team that makes the most of their opportunities. To go on the road to Northwood [Fla., in the opening round of the tournament] under the difficult circumstances that Houghton had to undertake and get a win shows a lot of character."
Further about Monday's opener, Yelton said, "I think we will face a very organized and hard-working team. ... Houghton has been a mainstay as one of the top NAIA programs since as far back as I can remember. ... They have a very high work ethic and will bring a lot of talent to the game on Monday. We hope to be able to match that on our end."
• Lee's volleyball team also is seeded third for its national tournament, which begins Monday in Sioux City, Iowa, but the 30-2 Lady Flames don't play until Tuesday night at 9:30 EST against Morningside of Iowa. Continuing in pool play, Lee faces Vanguard on Wednesday and Southern Oregon on Thursday, each at 6:45 EST.
Andrea Hudson's Lady Flames have won 24 matches in a row, second in the NAIA only to top-ranked Concordia (Calif.). Lee's losses were to No. 2 Texas-Brownsville and to Spring Hill, which later lost to the Lady Flames but joined them in the national tournament from the Southern States Athletic Conference.