CLEVELAND, Tenn. — What Columbus State women's soccer coach Jay Entlich called "an incredible weekend" at Lee University was particularly so for the home team, which got another incredible extension to its season by edging his nationally third-ranked and previously undefeated Cougars 1-0 Sunday afternoon.
Lee's Lady Flames are going to the NCAA Division II semifinals in Pittsburgh.
Now 17-6-1, they will play on Nov. 29 along with Bridgeport, Grand Valley State and Cal-San Diego. The winners that day will meet on Dec. 1 for the national championship.
Featuring a brilliant performance by junior goalkeeper Taylor Green from Notre Dame High School, the Lee defense was so much the story Sunday that two defenders combined for the sole goal. From a run down the right sideline, sophomore Anna Lanter from Soddy-Daisy made a long pass that freshman Lauren Weimer headed into the net at 62:10.
"If someone would have told me that one of my wingbacks would make a cross to my other wingback for the only goal of the game, I would have trouble believing it," Lee coach Chris Hennessey said later. "And they not only got the goal, but they defended very well. I was very proud of them."
The whole team "defended resiliently," he said, noting that the plan against the potent Cougars (18-1-2) was to keep them spread across the field and out of the middle in the offensive third as much as possible and to be ready for occasional opportunities to counterattack. From a relatively danger-free first half in which Columbus State had a 4-3 edge in total shots and only one save was recorded, the action picked up with a 12-8 Cougars margin after halftime.
The Southeast Region champions from Georgia had a 17-2 margin in corner kicks, 9-0 in the second half, over South champion Lee. Those championships were earned with overtime victories Friday on Lee's pitch.
"I knew once we scored we would be facing the Alamo," Hennessey said of the Cougars' added urgency.
Two rounds earlier in the national playoffs, Lee had won 1-0 in overtime against No. 2 West Florida, also undefeated at the time, but Hennessey said Sunday that he believed Columbus State was the best team he had seen "at the Division II level" since Lee left the NAIA, where it won four national titles.
"And that may have been the best goalkeeping performance I've seen since my transition four years ago to head coach," he said in reference to Green, whose six saves included four of the exceptional variety. She even stopped a penalty kick after a handball in the box.
She impressed the opposing coach as well as her own.
"Credit to the Lee defense and goalkeeper," Entlich said. "She was awesome today. I'm not sure I've seen a goalkeeper play that well in a long time. If she continues to play that well, they've got a good chance to win (the national title)."
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.