Graceland entered the match Saturday afternoon knowing it had a lot to prove.
The GU defense would have to step up quickly as the Concordia University Eagles played the Jackets hard for 110 minutes from start to finish. Castano Cardozo would have to be especially ready as the CUI attack was fierce and relentless.
"It's my job to direct the defense and stay focused every minute of the match," said sophomore keeper Stefany Castano Cardozo after her 13-save shutout of #10 Concordia University, Irvine.
The GU keeper had to do just that, as the host squad constantly beat its counterparts from Lamoni in loose ball control and total time of possession. The Eagles would continually choreograph elaborate runs and crosses, designed to confuse the GU back line.
Castano Cardozo made four saves in the first half, making difficult saves appear routine. It is clear she is among the most athletic goaltenders in the nation.
Ainsley Nagora was the only Jacket able to muster a shot on goal for GU all game long. CUI's keeper made the save and the score remained tied 0-0 after the first half.
The Eagles came out a determined bunch in the second half, quickly moving the ball around the perimeter, feeding passes into the box and getting in the way of Castano Cardozo. However, the All-HAAC goalkeeper wouldn't let this phase her as the sophomore made another five saves during, finishing regulation play with nine.
The game had now moved to a golden-goal overtime, comprised of two ten-minute halves.
Graceland again had to fend off pressure during extra time, but again, Castano Cardozo came up big.
In the 96th minute, a CUI attacker found the ball at her feet about 9 yards away from the GU goal. At the last moment, the Graceland netminder dove straight up in the air, just deflecting the ball over the crossbar. Again, the Jackets had escaped defeat.
Moments later, the Eagles found themselves in a scramble deep in the Graceland zone. CUI was able to unleash a shot, but the fortuitous foot of Shannon Scarlett saved another would-be loss as the ball climbed over the crossbar and no damage was inflicted.
"All I could do was throw my body in front of the shot. There was a loose ball and once I realized it had gone over the goal, all I could do was sigh."
Growing weary from the constant defending, the Jackets had to make a final push to earn an opportunity at penalty kicks. Again the Eagle attack wouldn't stop, forcing Castano Cardozo to continually sacrifice her body, making save after save.
Just when the crowd thought CUI would pull ahead, the Columbian native silenced the eager crowd. In the 104th minute, an Eagle forward corralled a pass inside the 18 yard box. She turned, driving the ball towards the far right corner. As it skipped across the ground and the crowd started to rise, the right hand of Castano Cardozo appeared from what seemed as nowhere, again denying the Eagles a home win.
As the final moments waned down, Graceland knew it had an opportunity to win the game in a shootout .
In front of the hostile crowd, each Jacket stepped up with the confidence of a veteran, and they took advantage of a CUI goalkeeper who saw little action throughout the match.
Gisela Arrieta, Daniela Gonzalez, Karina Vega and Leslie Carroll all scored for GU while Castano Cardozo came up with one huge save, which left the fate of the match on the foot of Ainsley Nagora. With the first four GU shooters shooting right, Nagora went left.
The CUI goalkeeper guessed correctly, extending the shootout. After the Eagles scored their final opportunity, the match moved to a sudden-death penalty kick scenario.
The match only went one more round as Sarahi Ortiz Casillas buried her chance, going right again.
As the pressure mounted and the Jackets tasted blood, CUI sent its final shot wide right and the reserves and coaching staff stormed the field.
"It was an oustanding defensive effort by the whole team," noted head coach Fred Wagenaar. "Our back four were disciplined, organized and communicated well. Stefany did an amazing job handling the shots that did get through. We had lost not once, but twice in the 2010 postseason, so it felt very good finding ourselves on the winning side for once.
"We had a talk about resiliance last night, and if nothing else, we certainly showed it. The players played hard for each other, and simply put, that attitude won the game."
Graceland finished the match Saturday afternoon knowing it had proved everything.
Graceland now advances to Alabama to take on the University of Mobile Rams, which defeated the University of Texas at Brownsville. The match will be played at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 29.