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“Dig in and Hang on” Matadors reach National Title game

The Arizona Western men's soccer team defeats Salt Lake CC 2-0 to advance to first ever NJCAA DI National Championship.

TYLER, Tex. ( KYMA, KECY-TV ) - It's been a year of first's for the Arizona Western men's soccer team. For the first time in school history the Matadors finished the regular season undefeated. After losing the District 1 championship to Salt lake Community College in Utah 2-1, on November 6th, AWC received an at-large bid in the 12 team NJCAA DI National Tournament.

On Tuesday, in the opening round of pool play in Tyler, Texas, Arizona Western defeated LSU - Eunice 3-0. It was the first time in team history the Matadors chalked up a W in the win column in the National Tournament. On Wednesday, the Matadors jumped out to a 2-0 halftime lead over second seeded Cowley, only to see the lead disappear. AWC would add a goal late in the second half and hang on to a 3-2 win.

The win marked the first time in program history that Arizona Western won back to back games in the national tournament. It also marked the first time AWC had ever advanced out of pool play and into the national semi-finals. Head Coach Kenny Dale recalls when he felt his team really had a shot to go deep into the playoffs.

"I think a couple of weeks ago," Dale said. "Guys are really starting to come together and realizing it's crunch time and you have to put aside small things, differences that guys had, hard challenges in training and things like that."

Dale says during the regular season there were times when the locker room became a little intense. Some players felt they should be playing more.

"Everyone one thinks they can do better on the field than the other guys when you're winning," Dale said. "Nobody wants to play if we were losing. I told them, when you make a highlight tape to send to another school, it's only going to be 7-10 minutes if that. When you do get to play, go out there and play you hardest, you only need a little bit of film on you."

Dale has kept the Matadors ship afloat despite a little turbulence navigating through the waters of the regular season success and now deep into the playoffs. On Friday afternoon, Arizona Western faced the top ranked team in the country, Salt Lake Community College. The winner advancing to the national title game on Saturday. After knocked off the number two seed Cowley, Dale felt good about the Matadors chances against Salt Lake.

"I'm glad they {Salt Lake Community College } got through because today we played them on grass," Dale said. "We lost to them in Salt Lake on turf. We felt even when we lost to them that we could do a better job on grass against them."

Dale was right, with just under four minutes into the game, Arizona Western got on the board first on a goal from Michele Signorelli.

"We scored off a corner, we had a real fortunate corner kick that he vollied in," Dale said. "In like the first 10 minutes of the game, so we built our lead early and then we were just able to hang on and defend. Which sometimes what you have to do, especially with so many injured personnel, I'm really excited for the guys that played, Garbiel Paglioni, Aghiles Ould Lamara, Francois Geris-Rey, they all played really really well."

Injuries have hampered Arizona Western in the playoffs and the players who used to be complaining for more playing time in the regular season, are now getting their time to step up during the most crucial part of the season.

"We had some injuries to some of our more experienced players, but hey, the young guys stepped right up and did a great job," Dale said. "We had a few guys playing out of position and used a little smoke and mirrors, patched it up and got it done."

The Matadors next will play Iowa Western in the National Championship game on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

"We'd certainly like to take it all the way," Dale said. "We'll have our trainer Christopher Black patch our guys up and see who can go tomorrow."

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Scott Gross

Scott Gross joins the KYMA team as the CBS 13 sports director and weather forecaster. Scott comes to the Desert Southwest all the way from Alaska where he covered the military and education beats for KTVA-TV & KTUU-TV.

Contact him at scott.gross@kecytv.com.

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