PENSACOLA, Fla. – In Valdosta State’s first season, the Blazers went to the Gulf South Conference Championship match, but, unfortunately, could not win it. Valdosta State and North Alabama, the top two teams in the GSC in shutouts this season, exploded for a record breaking eight-goal match in the GSC Championship with the Blazers falling, 5-3. Valdosta State’s record in its inaugural season will stand at an impressive 11-6-2.
The most goals scored in a GSC Championship was seven, set in 2004. Valdosta State scored first, but the Lions of North Alabama were able to put in five goals before Valdosta State could answer. Valdosta State was able to score two goals late to make it just a two-goal deficit.
Neither team saw any legitimate scoring chances in the early going, but in the 23rd minute both teams scored.
First, Leanne Bishop collided with North Alabama goalkeeper Alex McLay going for a loose ball, and the official called a foul on McLay in the box. Karly Lentz took the penalty kick for Valdosta State and scored in the bottom left corner for a 1-0 VSU lead.
A mere 14 seconds later, North Alabama tied the match. Off the kickoff, Chloe Roberts pushed a through ball to Nikki Brown on the right side. Brown found the bottom left corner to tie the match, 1-1.
With 15:42 left in the first half, North Alabama took the lead on a free kick from just outside the right corner of the box. Roberts sent the ball in and Stephanie Bradshaw skied for a deflection off her head to claim a 2-1 advantage.
After that, North Alabama snagged the momentum and put together a number of scoring opportunities before the end of the half, but the Blazer defense held strong to thwart the UNA chances. Valdosta State would only allow three shots on goal in the opening half while North Alabama only gave up one.
The Lions would take the 2-1 lead to halftime, the same deficit the Blazers were up against West Florida in the semifinals.
Less than three minutes into the second half, North Alabama was able to expand the lead with Brown’s second goal of the match. Brown’s first shot was headed out by a VSU defender, but Brown shot off the rebound to make it 3-1, in favor of UNA, with much of the second half left to play.
Brown would make it a hat trick with 31:46 to play on a breakaway. She ran the right side and received the ball from Roberts. With a one-on-one against VSU goalkeeper Olivia Mills, Brown scored in the bottom left corner for a 4-1 UNA advantage.
Brown and Roberts would hook up again for North Alabama’s fifth goal of the match. This time it was Roberts with the breakaway who was able to score. Roberts also approached from the right side and also scored in the bottom left. Mills was able to get a hand on it, but it just wasn’t enough as the ball continued to roll into the goal.
With 13:40 left, Casey Ponder showed Valdosta State was not done fighting. Arielle Sabina sent in a free kick from just past center field that Ponder was able to head in from just outside the box. Ponder’s header went high and dropped in just over the UNA goalkeeper to make it 5-2.
Margaret Stauffer was able to help Valdosta State and North Alabama break the record for most goals in a Gulf South Conference Championship. Lauren Hale rifled the ball to Stauffer, standing just right of the goal. Stauffer corralled it and stuck it in to make the score, 5-3, in favor of UNA.
Despite the loss, Valdosta State made an excellent showing in its first ever Gulf South Conference Tournament. Emily Cooper, Abbi Edwards and Mills were all named to the All-Gulf South Conference Tournament Team.