They meet again.
The Columbus State women’s soccer team is in Kansas City, Mo., preparing for its Thursday evening NCAA Division II semifinal matchup against Grand Valley State, which defeated the Lady Cougars in the championship game last year. Game time is set for 6 p.m. Eastern.
The Lady Cougars advanced after defeating West Florida in a 2-1 double-overtime thriller on Nov. 20. For CSU, that game helped put things in perspective.
“I think it really prepared us in a really good way,” said junior defender Hugurn Elvarsdottir. “West Florida is a really strong team. They’ve been to the national championship many times. I think that game, especially going into double overtime, having to work hard and set our lines right, I think that helps us going into the Final Four.”
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For the Lady Cougars, looking across the pitch at Grand Valley may very well be like looking in a mirror. Like CSU, Grand Valley possesses a potent offense; in fact, the Lady Cougars and Grand Valley rank 1-2, respectively, in goals per game in Division II women’s soccer.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said senior forward Nicole Corcione. “So many different people have scored those goals. Anyone in the starting 11, anyone coming off the bench can score, and that’s been a really positive thing for us this year.”
“It’s been a lot of fun with the group we have,” CSU coach Jay Entlich said. “You just never know where goals are going to come from. That’s the beauty of this group. We’re getting goals from outside midfielders, attacking centermen, holding mids, defenders, and even to be kind of funny, in practice, we brought our goalkeeper up on a set piece and she scored.”
“It might be a really high-scoring game,” Corcione said of Thursday’s matchup with Grand Valley. “Knowing that anyone on our team can score goals, I think that gives us the upper hand because there are different players who can do so many great things.”
The goal this year, of course, is for a different result in the game. Last season, Grand Valley ended the Lady Cougars’ season one game short of the ultimate goal; on Thursday night, CSU hopes to return the favor.
“I think it’s a benefit the second time, because you know what to expect,” Corcione said. “I think last year, we were all nervous. This year, the goal was to get back there. We’re more prepared now because we know what to expect and how serious to take it. This time, it’s more serious for me and the seniors, because it’s our last chance. I’m excited, so we’re ready to go.
“We’re excited to play them in the semifinal. We’re looking to end their season. I’m really excited for the rematch. We’ve practiced really well the last couple of days, and we’re going to give them everything we have.”
“Grand Valley is super talented,” Entlich said. “That’s the reason they’re the three-time defending national champion. They’re well coached. In the end, they’re a different team than they were last year, and we’re a different team than we were last year, so we’re really looking forward to the matchup.
“Last year, Grand Valley came in undefeated, and we were the newbies. We were the team that wasn’t supposed to be there, the No. 2 seed out of our own region. This year, we’re the No. 1 seed, we’re going back for the second straight year, and from a tactical standpoint, we’re going to be ready for them. Last year, we didn’t have time to prepare.”
No matter the outcome in Kansas City, Entlich and the CSU staff have set the bar high for the Lady Cougars for years to come.
“We’re about the process,” Entlich said. “Obviously, we want the trophy, but we do understand you have to put in years and years of effort to achieve a certain level. The sustainability has been great. We’re three-time Peach Belt champions; we’re three-time PBC tournament champions; we’re three-time Southeast Regional champs. It’s been a great ride … with a great staff, I’m really fortunate to have good people who go out and find the best kids.”
The winner of Thursday night’s game will face the winner of Western Washington and Kutztown in the national championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday.