Scoring started almost instantaneously in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Women’s Soccer Tournament final on Saturday, and though it was not Hope College who started out on the right foot, the Flying Dutch did what they do best in the end — defend and patiently wait for scoring opportunities come.
In doing so, Hope — the 2017 regular-season champions — defeated second-seeded Olivet College 2-1 to add a MIAA tournament title to its trophy case for the second season in a row on a rainy Saturday at Van Andel Soccer Stadium.
Hope now advances onto NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship as the MIAA’s automatic qualifier. This is the Flying Dutch’s sixth NCAA postseason appearance and third in four years.
The Flying Dutch’s record moves to 18-2-1 — equaling the 2005 school record for wins
in a single season.
The NCAA announces the 64-team field for the Division III tournament on Monday at 1 p.m. on NCAA.com.
The game’s first goal came inside the first minute when Olivet senior Isabelle Leon, the MIAA’s Most Valuable Player, scored on an unassisted goal at 55 seconds.
It was just the eighth goal the Flying Dutch allowed the entire season.
Hope defender junior Morgan Buursma of Grandville, Michigan (Calvin Christian HS) slipped to the slick turf just as Leon took a long leading pass, leaving Leon a clear path to shoot on an angle to the right corner of Hope’s goal.
“We held them scoreless (earlier) this season, and I don't think we took anything for granted, especially since Isabelle is the league’s player of the year. But that team came out fast,” head coach Leigh Sears of Olivet. “When we got scored on quick, I think we got a little rattled. But then our team hung in.
“Then once we got our break and calmed down in the second half, I was pretty confident we could pull it out. It was just a matter of time because Olivet doesn’t (substitute) a lot and we (substitute) considerably more, so we figured we could wear them down.”
Hope tied the game in the first half at 25:14 on a goal by sophomore Megan Bigelow of Flushing, Michigan (Flushing) that was set up on a centered assist from senior Erin Brophy of West Lafayette, Indiana (West Lafayette).
Bigelow’s strong shot flew out of the reach of Olivet goalie Samantha Gifford’s outstretched arms to the top left corner of goal for Bigelow’s third goal of the season.
Hope took the lead for good midway through the second half off a Bigelow assist and the resulting goal by junior Rachael Braginton of Grandville (Grandville HS).
Braginton received the ball with her back to goal in the middle of the box and turned swiftly to shoot, putting Hope ahead with 22:26 remaining with her seventh goal of the season.
The Hope team dominated much of the game offensively, topping Olivet in shots on goal (15-2), shots (23-5), and corner kicks (7-2). Olivet finished its season with a 13-7-1 record.
“We played this game all the way to the end and just remain composed,” Sears added about her team. “We knew it was lose and go home…. Winning the MIAA Tournament again was a goal from the beginning. It’s been a process. But to win it at home was huge.”
The first round of the NCAA championship will kick off on Friday, November 10.