No. 1 seed Phoenix wins opener against Georgia Military

No. 1 seed Phoenix wins opener against Georgia Military

They may be the No. 1 seed in the NJCAA Division I Women's National Soccer Tournament, but Phoenix College head coach Chris Sagar sees his Bears as a bit of a Cinderella story.

"It's our first time ever at the national tournament," Sagar said. "We end up with the No. 1 ranking, the No. 1 seed. We've got a target on our back. We've got young players. All the girls are from the Phoenix Metro area. We're playing against international players from all over the world.

"So yeah, we are a Cinderella team. We're just happy to be here. We're going to try to dance as long as we can."

The Bears (22-0-1) certainly had a reason to dance Monday morning after coming back from a one-goal halftime deficit to defeat No. 12 Georgia Military College 2-1 in their opening game of pool play on the campus of Eastern Florida State College.

Freshman Brenda Lozano scored the game-tying goal for Phoenix following a scramble in front of the net after a corner kick and sophomore Nubia Perez got the game winner after getting a cross to the back post from Eliudth Gonzalez.

Georgia Military College scored the game's first goal on a shot from 35 yards out by Adisa Nwawel. It was the 38th goal of the season for the freshman from Cameroon, which leads the nation.

Although the Bulldogs (14-3-1) certainly had their chances to score, they couldn't get another shot past Phoenix College keeper Esthefanny Barreras.

"We didn't score on our opportunities today, and they got their opportunities met," Bulldogs coach Courtney Morgan said. "I feel like we played really well. I'm not disappointed with my girls. I couldn't ask more from my girls. I couldn't ask more for them."

Given that it was the first national tournament game ever – for both programs – each side was understandably a little nervous.

So with his team trailing 1-0 at the half, Sagar told his players to just remember what got them there.

"We did good things all year that got us here," Sagar said. "We're not going to let that one goal end what we do. We've just got to go back to what's got us here and play smart. The next goal is going to be the important one and we got it to tie the game up.

"It was one of those (situations where it's our) first game here, they're a little Cinderella team … we just needed that first goal to get our confidence and we'd be fine."

After Lozano got the game-tying goal – the ball was initially tipped by Georgia Military keeper Cassidy Norman – the Bears worked the ball perfectly to get the go-ahead shot.

Gonzalez brought the ball down the left side and crossed it over to Perez, who was able to put it home despite colliding with a Georgia Military defender.

"We always talk about playing the ball to the back post, away from the keeper," Sagar said. "Those back-post goals are key to winning games. It was good to see that one of our sophomore captains, Nubia Perez, did what we've done all year.

"We get the ball into those dangerous areas and she was able to sacrifice her body and put the ball into the back of the net."

From there, it was up to the Phoenix College defense and Barreras, who played in the national tournament for Eastern Florida State College in 2015 before taking off 2016 to play for the Mexican National Team.

If there was ever a calming influence for the Bears, Barreras was it.

"The girls are excited. The girls are also nervous," Barreras said. "I mean, they're happy to be here. This is my second time coming. I'm glad I can put that confidence in them that it's good to be here, that it's OK to be here, and that we can play and compete against these teams."

Phoenix will be back in action on Wednesday against Lewis & Clark at 10 a.m. where a win would clinch the Bears a spot in the national semifinals.

Georgia Military College will play Lewis & Clark on Tuesday at 10 a.m. where the Bulldogs will try to build off of the way they played against Phoenix.

"It was very evenly matched, and that's good," Morgan said. "Coming in as the No. 12 seed, you never know what you're going to get. This is our first time in the national championship. It's been a good learning experience for the girls. Getting to play teams that are the top 12 in the country is a really good thing."