A soccer ball doesn’t get past Central Missouri’s all-American goalkeeper Ana Dilkes often.
On her way to setting the NCAA Division II record for most career shutouts (63), Dilkes has kept 20 clean sheets and allowed just four goals through 24 games. She’s made 84 saves in a perfect season that has not seen the Jennies, whose 24-0-0 record is the best in Division II and the best in program history, lose or play to a draw.
Dilkes and the top-ranked Jennies will try to keep that historic pace this week at Swope Soccer Village, where the Final Four of the NCAA Division II tournament begins Thursday. They will play No. 17 Mercy College (18-3-1) at 2 p.m.
Central Missouri, which has only lost five games since the start of the 2014 season, is making its first appearance in the Final Four.
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“I think that maturity for the team has played into our success this year,” Central Missouri coach Lewis Theobald said. “We've had a lot of success in the past. This year we were just able to get past the Elite Eight.”
Grand Valley State stopped the Jennies in the Elite Eight each of the previous three seasons.
This time around, Central Missouri never relinquished the lead on the way to a 3-1 win that clinched the program’s first Final Four berth.
“It was a big game but we felt confident this year with what we had to bring to the table,” Central Missouri forward Abby Rhodes said.
Rhodes, a redshirt senior who played at Olathe South, is tied for the team and conference lead in goals scored. She and Jada Scott have each found the back of the net 17 times this season.
Senior midfielder Baylie Edwards’ 12 goals and freshman striker Makayla Toth’s 10 goals have also helped fuel an offense that averages 3.54 goals per game, which is the third-best mark in the country.
“I think experience has helped us a lot,” Dilkes said. “I don’t think that takes credit away from the underclassmen, though. They’ve filled really big shoes … and helped us have a steady season.”
On the opposite end of the field, defenders have only allowed eight shots on goal. Central Missouri leads the nation with a goals-against average of .167.
Mercy College is 24th in the country, with a goals-against average of .630.
“We gotta worry about us,” Theobald said. “Playing to our potential is really important. … Our best players have to be the best players. They have to show up and make an impact.
“Not letting the moment get too big, since this is our first time being in the Final Four, is important.”
After Central Missouri’s game, the Rockhurst men’s team will also play for a spot in the NCAA Division II championship game. The No. 2 Hawks, who haven’t allowed a goal in the postseason, will play No. 4 Lynn at 5 p.m.
Longtime coach Tony Tocco led Rockhurst to the semifinals for the fourth time in five years. None of the previous teams reached the final.