Coach Matt Yelton will take his women’s soccer team to Azusa, Calif., to open the 2013 season on Thursday evening at 7 (EDT). As in recent years, Yelton will send his ladies into a heated battle against longtime rival Azusa Pacific, and then they’ll rest a day before being pitted against Westmont College on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Azusa holds a 5-4 edge in the series as both teams continue through the provisional stage of the NCAA Division II progression. The Cougars and Lady Flames have met nine times since 2005. Lee ended the Cougars’ season in 2010 and 2011 at the NAIA tournament during its four-year national championship run. Thursday night’s matchup will be the Flames’ first-ever visit to the Cougar Soccer Complex.
The Cougars are members of the Pacific West Conference and suffered the worst start in head coach Jason Surrell’s 13 seasons, opening the 2012 campaign with a 3-5 record midway through the season. The program that had long been the standard of success in the NAIA looked lost in its first season of Division II play.
But Azusa pulled it together and found its rhythm in its first year in the Pacific West Conference, rattling off 10 consecutive wins to end the regular season and take second place with a 12-2 PacWest mark.
On the other hand, Yelton will be watching closely as his Lady Flames begin play in the Gulf South Conference and against NCAA Division II competition.
“We are looking forward to getting our season underway,” said Yelton, who enters the new era with a 222-34-8 record since taking over the Lee women’s program. “I think this trip will be much like our upcoming season in the GSC in that we don’t really know what to expect out of the bulk of the opponents we will be facing this year. I am pleased with what I have seen out of our player so far. We are basically a brand-new team with eight new starters and some players in very different positions.”
The Lady Flames will return to Cleveland and host NCAA Division III power Emory University, one week from Friday in the annual Kickin’ It for Kids with Cancer contest. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.