GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University scored all three of its goals off set pieces and defeated 23rd-ranked Nova Southeastern University 3-2 in its 2018 women's soccer season opener Friday afternoon at Pioneer Field.
Nicole McMillen tied a school single-game record with three assists for the Pioneers, two coming on corner kicks and the third on an indirect free kick which gave Tusculum (1-0-0) a 3-1 lead early in the second half. Kenzie Ellenburg, Emma MacDonald and Sonja Ballmert scored for the Pioneers, who were outshot 13-10 and survived a corner kick by the Sharks (0-1-0) in the final seconds to finish off their first victory over a ranked opponent since a 4-0 victory over eighth-ranked Saint Leo on Sept. 7, 2012.
McMillen's three assists equal the program single-game record set eight previous times, most recently by Tramicka James against Pfeiffer on Sept. 16, 2009. Ellenburg's goal was the first of her Pioneer career, while MacDonald's goal four minutes later was her first since Oct. 27, 2015 against Carson-Newman.
Tusculum broke through at 7:39 of the first half as McMillen's corner kick was headed home by Ellenburg. The two clicked again at 11:37, with McMillen's corner played off Ellenburg's head to MacDonald in front for a 2-0 Pioneer lead.
The Sharks nearly got on the board during a flurry of shots in the 19th and 20th minutes, but Pioneer goalie Hannah Graham made saves on a header by Nicole Staley and a shot to the near post by Emma Heikkila. Adanna Edwards almost found the net less than 20 seconds after Heikkila's shot, but her rising blast from 15 yards caromed off the crossbar.
Nova Southeastern broke through with 4:15 left in the first half as Anetra Byfield's shot from 15 yards sneaked through two defenders and past Graham to cut the Pioneer lead to 2-1. Hannah Christophe earned the assist on Byfield's tally.
Tusculum regained its two-goal lead at 3-1 just under six minutes into the second half, as a violation in the box by Nova Southeastern resulted in an indirect free kick from just five yards out for the Pioneers. McMillen's tap pass to Ballmert was blasted through the defense with 39:10 remaining in the match.
Just about six minutes later, the Sharks responded as a cross from Heikkila came to Alexys Nowak, who shot behind Graham as she came across to contest the shot. The goal trimmed the Pioneer lead to 3-2 with 33:13 on the clock.
Nova Southeastern thought it had the equalizer with 17:16 to play as a rebound off the post was played past Graham into the net, but the linesman's flag was raised for offsides. The Tusculum defense packed in against the Nova attack, with the Pioneers taking their last shot in the 62nd minute and their final corner in the 72nd minute.
The final shot of the game came off the foot of Heikkila with 3:34 left, but Graham punched the attempt away from 20 yards out. Nova Southeastern was awarded a corner in the final 15 seconds, but the hasty setup resulted in a service that was collected and chipped away by the Pioneer defense as the horn sounded.
Each team was credited with five shots on goal in the match, with Graham finishing with three saves for the Pioneers and Shannon Hearty earning two stops for the Sharks. Tusculum had a slight 6-5 advantage in corner kicks, and was whistled for 11 fouls to seven for Nova Southeastern.
The Pioneers will host Palm Beach Atlantic on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the final game of the two-day, four-team Pioneer Classic. The Sailfish defeated Alabama Huntsville 2-0 in Saturday's opening game.