Paradise Valley Community College coach Jon Ruzan says freshman Karina Lopez-Martinez has more potential than any other player he has ever coached.
“And not a little,” Ruzan said, spreading his arms out wide. “This much.
“She has the pace. She has the strength. She has the technical ability. She has the vision. But she’s raw. Today, she showed something.”
That she did. With eighth-seeded Parkland College paying special attention to Pumas’ top scorer Jamie Iurato, Lopez-Martinez scored both goals as Paradise Valley beat the Cobras 2-1 Wednesday at the Titan Soccer Complex on the Melbourne campus of Eastern Florida State College.
The victory puts the No. 1-ranked Pumas (24-0-0) into the NJCAA women’s soccer national semifinals where they will play No. 7 Monroe Community College (14-3-2) on Friday.
The national championship game is set for Saturday at 7 p.m.
Ruzan, who was frustrated the Pumas didn’t create more scoring chances, was nevertheless happy with the way his team was able to adapt to Parkland’s style of play.
“Our defense isn’t always tested as it was today,” Ruzan said. “This was a very smart team, playing what looked like a 3-5-2. All they did was clog up the middle and play that quick long-ball, through-ball (style).
“It backed us up a little bit. We don’t see that that much. … This team has been great about getting into a new situation and absorbing it.”
The Pumas got a solid game defensively from sophomore defender Shannon Lewis, who along with team captain Jenessa Dunbar helped fend off the Parkland attack in front of goalkeeper Arielle Perez.
Then there was Lopez-Martinez, who said she normally looks for Iurato than trying to score herself.
The freshman scored on a header after a corner kick from Dunbar to give the Pumas a 1-0 lead 11 minutes into the game.
That lead lasted all of 15 seconds.
Parkland answered right back as Alyssa Jones scored on an assist from Ellie McKenzie to knot things up at 1-1.
Lopez-Martinez got the game winner in the 55th minute when she got a pass from Kelly Smith down the right side and crossed the ball past the Parkland goalkeeper and into the net.
“On the first (goal), I’m pretty good with my head, and the person who was marking me, she just left me, so I just saw the goal and headed it,” Lopez-Martinez said. “The second one, I just dribbled it – because I’m really good dribbling when I see it open – and I just shot it down and it went in and I was like, ‘OK.’ ”
The Cobras (18-2-0) may not have gotten the result they wanted, but coach Chris Jackson was proud of the way his team played determined soccer.
“It epitomized our season,” Jackson said. “They fought for every inch they had and they didn’t give an inch. We made the No. 1 seed in the country have to earn everything they got against us.
“I told the players before the game that this was their chance to come out and make a statement. You run with them. You play with them. You don’t back down. You take it to them. And that’s what they did. … I’m incredibly proud of my team.”
The Pumas, meanwhile, will have a chance to add another national title to their resume if they can get by a very good Monroe team and then whoever comes out of the other semifinal.