Northwestern State soccer finds itself headed to its second Southland Tournament Championship in three years

On Friday, Southland Player of the Year Olivia Draguicevich scored her sixth game-winner and 13th goal of the season to elevate NSU past Southeastern Louisiana.

A massive throw-in from Southland Freshman of the Year Caroline Hilliard was found off the head of senior forward Kalee Williams, who directed it toward the SLU goal. Draguicevich then took a header of her own, redirecting the ball past Maher at low-right, finding the back of the net for the game winner.

Draguicevich spoke of now playing up in big moments such as this steels her against pressure, rather than affecting her negatively.

“I honestly think nerves are a good thing,” Draguicevich said. “Tonight, they helped sharpen us as a team and get the win.”

Prior to the Lady Demons’ semifinal tilt, Southland Head Coach of the Year Stuart Gore had predicted a chess match between the two Louisiana rivals.

His predictions proved true; despite a 1-0 victory in a back-and-forth affair for the top-seeded Lady Demons (11-5-2, 10-2 SLC), SLU (7-9-3, 4-5-3 SLC) ceded nothing easily on Friday night at the Dr. Jack Dugan Soccer and Track Stadium.

“Tip my hat to SLU tonight—they were warriors the whole 90 minutes,” Gore said. “We held control of the game up until the final ten minutes of the first half, and they came to life.

“Second half started, they came after us,” Gore said. I think it was literally end-to-end through the second half, so you got to give (SLU head coach) Chris McBride credit. They were outstanding, especially after having to play yesterday and losing a day of practice and recovery.”

A strong showing by SLU on Friday was proceeded by defeating fourth-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi just the day before. Their quarterfinal match had previously been scheduled to be played on Wednesday but was postponed to the following day due to lighting issues at the venue.

Two-time Southland Conference Goalkeeper of the Year Acelya Aydogmus tallied five saves on the evening which included a pair of heroic stops in the 68th minute directly in front of the NSU net, holding the score to zero.

“It was a hard 90-minute battle for us tonight,” Aydogmus said. “Thank goodness we got a late goal and were able to hold it down in the last 10-15 minutes to get the win.”

Gore praised Aydogmus’ efforts Friday night, and was particularly proud of her holding the line in the second half.

“Again, Ace proved why she’s goalkeeper of the year tonight, especially in the later stages,” Gore said. “The two saves Ace makes late – especially the second one – was out of this world.”

The Lady Demons will kick off the championship round against three-seed Incarnate Word on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Photo:  NSU Soccer