TAMPA – Some players have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
For Grand Valley State forward Melissa Botts, that was never truer than on Saturday afternoon, as her 78th minute goal gave the Lakers the NCAA Division II Women’s national championship with a 1-0 victory against Cal-State Dominguez Hills at Pepin-Rood Stadium.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Botts said. “They had a great cross, it bounced off someone and the goalie fiddled it with her hands a little bit and I just came up for a toe-poke.”
After a corner from the left had gone long through the penalty area, Katie Johnson gathered the ball on the right, cut in onto her left foot and hit an angled, low cross into the penalty area. Kristen Eible redirected the cross on net, and CSDH goalkeeper Alyssa Congdon dove to her right to make the save. Congdon wasn’t able to hold onto the shot, though, and Botts was on hand to tuck away the rebound into the left side of the net.
Botts had led the Lakers attack this season, the goal on Saturday being her 15th of the campaign, but because of an ankle injury she was limited for the end of the playoffs. However, less a minute after being brought on as a substitute, her goal proved crucial for the Lakers. GVS coach David DiIanni said that Botts had been goal-hungry throughout the season.
“We had decided we were going to run with Ashley for the last 10, 11, 12 minutes,” DiIanni said. “I don’t know if it was the sub or just like you said Ashley was in the right place at the right time, but it sent us to victory.”
The victory was a sweet one for the GVS seniors, who had been to two Final Fours in 2006 and 2007 without coming away with a championship. With the Lakers having lost only four games over the past four years, the championship provided a great send-off for the senior class.
“I think it’s definitely nice to go out with a win,” senior defender Natalja Stanski said. “It’s been rough couple of years with emotional highs and lows, and making so far and always getting disappointed when you lose. I’m upset that I’m never going to play again, but it’s nice to go out with a national championship, and it’s definitely nice to do it with these girls that I’ve played with for four years.”
CSDH had opened the better of the two sides, as the Lakers appeared a little nervous to start the game, and the Toros had almost taken the lead in the fourth minute when Jessica Murphy’s shot clipped the top of the crossbar before going out for a goal kick.
After the first 10 minutes, though, the Toros seemed to become disconnected, giving away possession cheaply, and being forced to chase as GVS controlled the tempo of the game for most of the remaining 80 minutes.
“I thought they passed the ball pretty well, controlled possession and dictated the flow of the game,” Toros coach Joe Flanagan said. “We had moments, I agree I thought the first 10 minutes we were looking good, and then they just started to establish possession more.”
The Toros came close to forcing overtime in the 88th minute when Lakers goalkeeper Chelsea Parisecame well off her line to try and gather in a free kick from the left, only to see the ball get redirected to the top of the penalty area. CSDH’s Paige Peel fired a strong low shot to the bottom right corner of thenet, but Parise was able to scramble back to turn the shot wide for a corner.
Parise then saved from Kristan Boyle from the ensuing corner to end what was the Toros last chance to extend the game.
All that was left then was for the Lakers to celebrate their first women’s soccer national championship.
“This is not about me, it’s so much about the 26 girls that are underneath us that have sacrificed for four months,” DiIanni said. “I’m excited for our program and our girls that are right here and our team and the 60 text messages I’m going have from our alumni when I get out of here, that’s what I’m excited about, and I’m excited for our school, quite honestly.
“Our school has been behind us forever, and that’s what we’re about, we’re a family at our school, and we just wanted to chip in.”