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Women’s soccer: Aurora University reaches NAC title game

AurorUniversity's Mariah Ziegenbe(6) battles Milwaukee School Engineering defenders during Tuesday's match Aurora. | Al Benson~AurorUniversity

Aurora University's Mariah Ziegenbein (6) battles Milwaukee School of Engineering defenders during Tuesday's match in Aurora. | Al Benson~Aurora University

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Updated: December 1, 2012 4:47PM

Pressure is always a factor in athletics.

It can be overpowering for seniors playing in a postseason tournament.

“There is a lot of pressure to lead the team,” Aurora University senior soccer player Raquel Rodriguez said. “We don’t want to go out, and we want to make it to the NCAA and finally make it past that first round.”

There was pressure Tuesday afternoon at Vago Field but the Spartans cut right through it to defeat the Milwaukee School of Engineering 3-1 in the semifinals of the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament.

AU (18-1-1) advances to Friday’s 1:30 p.m. championship game at Vago Field.

That, of course, is hardly surprising since the Spartans have won seven straight NAC regular season championships and have won the conference tournament five of the six years it has been played.

Rodriguez, a graduate of West Aurora High School, has been a key part of that. She was AU’s leading scorer last year with 12 goals and 32 points. Her role has changed somewhat under first-year head coach Troy Edwards, and she has only four goals to go with 10 assists.

“Our formations have changed. Last year, we played two forwards up top so there was more freedom with the ball,” Rodriguez explained. “This year I’m more a forward/wing, but I think it’s worked out really well.”

Considering the Spartans are ranked No. 9 in Division III, it would be hard to argue.

Besides, the Spartans have lots of offensive firepower. Sophomore Nicole Wolfe scored two first half goals — giving her 16 for the season — off a pair of assists from freshman Nicci Bermudes, and junior Brittany Roydhouse scored a second half goal to carry the Spartans into the championship game.

The Raiders, who lost 2-1 to the Spartans during the season, finished the year with an 11-9-1 record.

“We knew MSOE would be a tough opponent,” Edwards said. “We knew it would be a different game from the first half to the second and we wanted to make sure in each half we had a plan of what we wanted to do.”

The win came one week after the Spartans had their 12-game winning streak snapped in a 2-1 overtime loss at Illinois Wesleyan.

“We felt for us it could have been a really good thing,” Edwards said. “It taught us that we had to be at our best and each one of us had to be fully ready to play.”

“All of us were very upset because we wanted to go undefeated,” Rodriguez said. “We said it’s better to lose now than in the tournament. It was kind of a humbling experience. “

That, too, is always a factor in athletics.

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