GCU women’s soccer rebounds from surprising 0-3 start

After a disastrous start to the season, Grand Canyon University’s soccer team has breathed new life into its plans to contend again this year for a conference title – and a group of local high school standouts have made significant scoring contributions to the turn-around.

The Antelopes’ women’s soccer team was a pre-season pick to finish runner-up in the Pacific West Conference, as they did last year, but was having a difficult time living up to those expectations as the season began.  The ‘Lopes dropped their first three games, getting outscored 9-3 on a swing through California.

It was an unexpected start, since last year’s squad went 11-5-1 to record the second-most wins in program history.  The 2010 team finished in second place in the PacWest and was ranked No. 9 in the West Region.

A 2-0 win against Colorado Mesa University a week ago got the ball rolling on the road back.  Jessica Lincoln, a freshman midfielder from Thunderbird High School in Phoenix, made one of the scores on an unassisted goal in the 81st minute to cap the season’s first win after Jessica Scarpati game them a 1-0 lead with her header at the 51-minute mark.

But it was the next game, against Fort Lewis College of Colorado, that built the momentum.  The ‘Lopes took the Skyhawks, ranked No. 6 among the Division II teams in the country, to a double-overtime tie, 2-2.

GCU’s first goal came from junior midfielder, Marina Nesic, last year’s PacWest Player of the Year, when she scored on a free kick from 20 yards out.  The second score was a heart-stopper that came with just 45 seconds left in regulation.  Freshman midfielder, Chelsea Santos, lofted the ball over the head of the Fort Lewis goalie for the first goal of her college career.

Another local athlete was involved in this one, but on the other side of the field.  Sam Weiss, a graduate last year of Hamilton High School in Chandler, scored both of the goals for Fort Lewis – getting them past another local standout, GCU’s senior goalkeeper, Stephanie Phillips from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.

The momentum culminated in Saturday’s conference opener, when the ‘Lopes beat their annual nemesis, Dixie State, 2-0.  It was just the second time that GCU has been able to beat Dixie State; the first time was October of last year, when the ‘Lopes went to St. George, Utah, and brought back an identical 2-0 victory.

Again, a local product stepped up to score the first goal against Dixie State.  Junior Julia Anglin, a forward from Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, scored her first goal of the season in the 55th minute.  Scarpati followed 30 minutes later with the insurance goal in a physical game that included 16 fouls.

The ‘Lopes reward for its recent successes?  A trip to Hawaii.

GCU will play its next four games in Hawaii, beginning with a game against Chaminade University on Saturday.

(Photo: GCU Athletics/Tim Koors))