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Bears Capture District Championship, Headed to North Carolina

Bears Capture District Championship, Headed to North Carolina

Natalie Ipina was nowhere to be found when it was all over. Yet, this Brookhaven Bear wasn't hiding when it mattered most.

Ipina scored both goals in No. 2 nationally-ranked Dallas College Brookhaven women's soccer team's 2-1 comeback win over No. 3 Dallas College Richland Sunday in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III South District Championship at Veterans Soccer Park. The win sends the two-time defending national champion Bears back to the NJCAA Division III National Tournament, this time in Gastonia, North Carolina Nov. 7-12.

"We're going to come back for that ring a third time," Bears freshman forward Sayer Taylor said after assisting on both of Ipina's goals.

Brookhaven (12-2-1) had its back against the wall after Richland (9-2-3) found the back of the net on Ximena Resendiz's free kick in the 59th minute of the second half. It was the Thunderducks' first goal off the Bears in the three meetings this season.

"It was just a very difficult game for us," Bears coach Jimmy Elder said. "It made it more difficult when they got the goal on the free kick. We waited, we waited … nothing seemed to change. We couldn't break 'em down."

As time kept ticking away, the Brookhaven coaches made the decision to take a defender off the field, and add an additional striker. It paid off.

Taylor banged a shot off Richland goalkeeper Paige Elliott in the 77th minute, and the ball caromed to the right to Ipina, who was there to tuck in the tying goal.

"She was just perfectly there, and honestly this made me so excited that we even get to tie the game," Taylor said. "I wasn't even worried about winning. I was just worried about that one goal. It just brought everybody's mood up, and it meant everything at that moment."

With just over a minute left to play, Taylor sent a ball to Kaley Robison, who connected with Ipina for the gamewinner. It was Ipina's seventh goal of the season and second gamewinner.

"I don't even remember what happened," said Taylor, whose connecting assist to Robison was her sixth of the year. "I just know that I saw Kaley, and she's just one of our most reliable players I could play it to, and I just found her and hoped for the best."

Ipina saved the best for last.


Brookhaven won in the last minute in a game where Richland, in many ways, outplayed the Bears.

"Richland has been very tough," Elder said. "They're a very aggressive team, so it makes it very difficult for us to play. In addition to that, the environment was just really terrible. Against an aggressive team, you're stuck, you're stuck. You can't go anywhere. Between the ball bouncing and the wind taking it, and them beating us up, and winning headers, it was just a very difficult game for us."

Elliott stopped eight shots in a game she stood on her toes throughout. Brookhaven put 10 of its 15 shots on goal. The Bears tested the talented Thunderducks keeper, earlier chosen NJCAA Division III Goalkeeper of the Week, with 11 shots in the second half.

Yet while Ipina went incognito after the game, she wasn't hiding with the game on the line, delivering in the limelight to send the Bears to North Carolina.

"She sat out the first half, and played maybe half the second half," Elder said of his district title game star. "She came in, and she did the trick. You just never know who's going to come from behind, and help you to win."

Brookhaven, winners of its last eight games, improved to 2-1 on a neutral field. Now the Bears will see more unchartered territory in a little over a week to put their back-to-back titles on the line. The Bears have won four national titles under Elder and assistant Robert Williams.

"Going back for our fifth national tournament, we've got a good team," Elder said. "Delta's No. 1 in the country. It's going to be a really steep climb to get there and beat them. But these girls, we've been through so much this year. They're seasoned, they're ready. We've played in a lot of different ways, a lot of different systems, so we're prepared to do a lot of different things, and that could be the wild card. That could help us go all the way again."