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Sjursen plays for APU one year earlier than planned, sees NAIA semifinal

Lauren Sjursen hadn’t planned to play collegiate soccer until 2010. An inquiry about that possibility led to a position on Azusa Pacific University’s 2009 women’s soccer team, and Sjursen not only participated on the field for APU but also traveled with the Cougars as they reached the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics semifinals.

“It was awesome, actually,” Sjursen said.

Sjursen graduated from Fallbrook High School in 2009 after three years on the Warriors’ varsity girls soccer team and a berth on the junior varsity squad as a ninth-grader. In July she contacted an APU assistant coach about playing in future seasons. “I was just seeing if it was possible still,” she said.

She hadn’t expected to be part of the 2009 team. “I thought I’d be too late to get on the team,” Sjursen said.

The assistant coach invited Sjursen to a summer camp at the university, where head coach Jason Surrell saw Sjursen play. “He liked how I played,” Sjursen said. “He wanted me to come out for the team.”

Sjursen accepted Surrell’s offer and joined the team a week before practice began. “He said: ‘Don’t really expect a lot of playing time’,” Sjursen said.

Sjursen, a midfielder, appeared in three of the Cougars’ 22 games. She took one shot during the season. “I got to get in for a little bit,” she said.

She also traveled with the team. “It was pretty exciting,” Sjursen said.

The Cougars earned a position in the top five of the NAIA’s national rankings and finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, including a 9-1 record which gave them first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference standings. In the GSAC post-season tournament, however, the Cougars lost to Point Loma Nazarene University in the semifinals on a penalty kick shootout.

During GSAC regular-season play the Cougars had defeated Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego; Azusa Pacific’s only league loss was against Westmont in two overtimes.

“We had a lot of bonding,” Sjursen said. “We got really close as a team.”

Sjursen was one of ten freshmen on the 2009 APU team, which also included ten seniors. “It was a good season for building,” she said.

A win in the NAIA playoff opening round November 21 at home over Maine-Fort Kent sent APU - and Sjursen - to the NAIA national tournament in Decatur, Alabama. Wins November 30 over Indiana Wesleyan and December 2 against Graceland College set up the third match of the season between Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene. The December 4 semifinal game was scoreless in field play, but the Sea Lions once again won the penalty kick shootout to advance to the NAIA finals. “That was kind of tough,” Sjursen said.

Sjursen will spend Spring practice with the Azusa Pacific team and expects to see more playing time as a sophomore.

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