Women’s Soccer Makes Program History With First-Ever NCCAA National Championship

by | Jun 21, 2024

On Friday, Nov. 30, 2023, the Women’s Soccer team made program history by winning their first-ever NCCAA national championship. But like all success stories, this history wasn’t made overnight.

“For many years, Bethel Women’s Soccer was far from competing with upper-level teams in the conference and in NAIA,” explains Kate Sherwood, senior center back. “When I came in as a freshman, we knew our place was at the bottom of the conference.”

A shift began in September 2020, when Jason Freeman ’19 joined the team as head coach just days before the first game. Freeman, with the help of assistant coaches Steve Dregits and Cristian Mihut ‘97, Ph.D., focused on establishing a team culture rooted in Christ.

“We decided we wanted to start with redefining where our identity lies, reminding ourselves we are all created in the image of God and that is the source of our value,” says Freeman.

The coaching staff expanded over time with the addition of part-time assistant coach Grace Linhart ’18 and Tim McClements as a full-time assistant coach. They worked to increase the level of play and raise expectations for players and spectators alike.

In the span of four years, the team transformed from winning one game and scoring three goals their entire 2020 season to winning a national championship!

“We were faithful in pursuing Christ at the center of what we do and working hard on the field, and God was faithful in His plan for the program,” says Grace Beck, senior left back.

Leena Thomas

The team traveled to Kissimmee, Fla., at the end of November for the NCCAA national tournament. The fifth out of six seeds, the Pilots faced both Mid-America Christian University (MACU) and Redeemer University to secure their spot in the championship match.

“We defeated the #1 seed 1-0 in our first game of the tournament,” recalls Freeman. “The Crossroads League conference has tough teams that strengthened us throughout our regular season. We were playing with a high level of confidence at the right time of the year.”

Sophomore center midfielder Leena Thomas scored the one goal in the game that secured their championship win against Southwestern Assemblies of God University and was named the NCCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, along with All-Tournament Team status. She credits the Lord’s faithfulness for the team’s dynamics.

“God has been faithful in the little things. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we as a team this year truly committed to our core values and represented Christ in our actions, on and off the field,” expresses Thomas.