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Achieving Their Goals

By Chris Bauman & W. Michael Beachy

SAU women's soccer team wins 2017 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship

For the second time in three years, Spring Arbor University is the national champion after defeating Benedictine College (Kan.) 2-0 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Women’s Soccer National Championship on Saturday, Dec. 2, in Orange Beach, Alabama.
The SAU Women’s Soccer Team set an NAIA National Championship record with 18 goals scored over five national tournament games. The previous record was 17, held by Lindsey Wilson (Ky., 2015) and Westmont (Calif., 2003). The win marked the 24th of the season for SAU — the most wins garnered in a single season in program history. The Cougars also set a new program record for goals in a season (102).

“Late this season, our mantra has been ‘lean into it’ as we’ve asked our players to lean into uncomfortable and challenging situations, not just on the field, but in their everyday lives. They are champions,” says head coach Jason Crist.

After the historic win, members of the team were awarded with praise and accolades for what they had achieved.

Junior Bethany Balcer was named the NAIA Women’s Soccer Most Valuable Player of the tournament. She was also selected as the National Player of the Year for the second time in her collegiate career. In 2015, Balcer became the first freshman to ever receive the National Player of the Year award. She now stands as the third player to ever receive the honor a second time.

During the tournament, Balcer tied her own NAIA record with seven tournament goals. Counting her two scores against Benedictine, she has scored 98 in her career. Balcer also enjoyed a record-breaking year, scoring 37 goals — the most by any player in a single season in program history. She currently ranks first in the country for game-winning goals.

Senior Aubrey Schierbeek earned the NAIA Outstanding Offensive Player Award. She also received a First Team nod for the second year in a row, her third straight All-American selection.
Balcer and Schierbeek, along with two other Cougars, seniors Ashley Timmons and Sarah Klunder, were named to the All-Tournament Team, as well as the NAIA All-American Teams. Klunder earned her third All-American honor and second straight First-Team Pick. Timmons was named to Second Team after receiving an Honorable Mention the previous year.

Together, these four women anchored a record-breaking team and helped SAU finish the season with a 24-1-1 record — the most wins in a single season in program history.
Yet, the players were not the only ones receiving praise. Head coach Jason Crist and assistant coaches Sam Ulstad ‘91, ‘03, Kevin Bristol, Kara (Weitzel ‘08) Toteff and Randi (Siedzik ‘04) Greenslade were named the 2017 National Staff of the Year by the United Soccer Coaches.

“Both the women in our program and I are continually blessed by the quality and depth of character possessed by my assistant coaching staff,” says Crist. “The time and effort that they invest into our student athletes is incredible, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the program would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the selfless efforts of Sam, Kara, Kevin and Randi.”

Crist, completing his 18th year as the women’s soccer head coach at SAU, was named the Crossroads League Coach of the Year for a seventh straight time, as well as the 2017 Select Sport America-NAIA Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year for the second time in three years, after leading the team to an eighth consecutive league title. “I am most proud of how our players represent their families, our university and their faith,” Crist said of the season. “I am honored and humbled to be their coach.”

With a stellar record, exceptional student athletes and a coaching staff who embody servant leadership, the future of the women’s soccer team is looking bright! SAU is blessed to assist the student athletes of the women’s soccer and all of our other teams as they achieve their goals on the field or court, in the classroom and after graduation.