Three-peat

The UCSD women’s soccer team captured its third consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Dec. 2 in front of a home crowd at Triton Soccer Stadium, knocking off the Lady Buccaneers from Christian Brothers University with goals from Elizabeth Hughes and Kristen Jones.

Colin Young-Wolff
Guardian

While offense grabbed all the attention, this game belonged to the stifling Triton defense that held CBU scoreless for the first time this season.

The Bucs entered the game heavily favored, thanks to a record-breaking attack that saw them topple the NCAA record for goals scored. Division II Player of the Year Missy Gregg led the Bucs’ attack with 73 goals in 22 games, a new NCAA record. Secondary offensive options included Irish National Team member Margaret Saurin, who now holds a NCAA record with 29 assists in 22 games, as well as 22-year-old freshman Anna Hemilund, who is the third-leading scorer for the Bucs with 16 goals and entered the Final Four with one more goal than UCSD’s leading scorer Erika Alfredson.

UCSD head coach Brian McManus looked at this juggernaut team and knew proactive steps were needed to stop such an offensive machine. And he knew exactly what to do: move senior Jessica Cordova from her usual midfield stopper role into the defense to mark the prolific scoring Gregg.

Kenrick Leung
Guardian

Cordova responded to the challenge, playing her best game of the post-season and limiting Gregg to only two weak attempts on goal.

It was not just Cordova who was at the root of the amazing defensive performance; outside backs Molly Carlson and Christine Wensel played outstanding games of their own by neutralizing the speed of the Bucs, while Julia Cuder held together the back line at sweeper.

Even the offense contributed to the Tritons’ strong defensive effort when senior Elizabeth Hughes picked up more defensive responsibility, stopping many CBU attacks in the midfield due to the loss of Cordova’s presence.

The defense did not play well the whole game, however, coming out flat against an energized Bucs squad that roared out of the gates with seven shots in the first 15 minutes.

The furious charge culminated in CBU’s best opportunity of the game when a close-range shot from Saurin hit the left post before falling harmlessly to a Triton defender.

“”In every game you need a bit of luck, and that came when the ball hit the crossbar,”” McManus said of Saurin’s shot.

The close call seemed to wake up the Tritons, and a short spurt of offense just before the half indicated momentum was clearly with UCSD. The Bucs, meanwhile, seemed to be in disbelief that for the first time all year they went a half without scoring.

With less than a minute remaining in the first half, Hughes was fouled at the edge of the CBU penalty box. Her ensuing free kick was deflected back to her feet. Hughes sent in another cross that appeared to hit the hand of a Bucs defender and went back to the foot of Hughes. Without a call being made, Hughes sent in a low cross which, after taking a couple of deflections, found the foot of Alfredson, who coolly put the ball past CBU goalkeeper Jennifer Simon. With the crowd going wild at the apparent goal, the far-side linesman stood with his flag raised to indicate that a UCSD player was offside when the goal was scored. Though the game entered halftime scoreless, it was obvious this game now belonged to UCSD.

At halftime, Bucs coach Gareth O’Sullivan was overheard ripping his squad apart with a demoralizing tirade laden with expletives.

“”At halftime, I told them they can’t play any worse. Then we came out in the second half and did,”” O’Sullivan said.

Buoyed by the burst at the end of the half and the slow realization that they are within reach of shutting down the best offense in the history of collegiate soccer, UCSD came out firing on all cylinders in the second half.

Less than three minutes into the second half, Megan Mendoza made a penetrating run down the left side of midfield before being fouled 30 yards from goal. The CBU defense slowly retreated, backs to the ball, into the center of the penalty area to set up its free kick defense while arguing with the referee. A split second after the foul, Hughes saw the opening on the left side of the box and made a slashing run into the space. Mendoza quickly picked out Hughes, who walked in on Simon and scored her fourth goal of the season. The goal sent the Triton Soccer Stadium record crowd of 1,645 into pandemonium and not only gave the Tritons the lead but put CBU behind for the first time in over a year.

“”[Taking quick free kicks] is one of those things you talk about all season long and never happens,”” Hughes said. “”Megan saw how open I was and just found me quickly.””

The goal further served to frustrate a distraught Bucs coach. Before taking the field for the second half, he stressed free kick defense and the need to get back quicker and watch the type of quick kicks which brought about the first Triton goal.

It was clear the goal disheartened the Bucs, and they stood little chance to equalize. Slowly their players began to yell at each other, attacking runs seemed to come few and far between and other than a few long range shots, nothing seemed to trouble sophomore goalkeeper Kami Poma.

Kristin Jones sealed the win for the Tritons when she capitalized on a CBU turnover in the backfield and went in one-on-one with Simon. Jones put the ball past the outstretched hands of the keeper for her ninth goal of the season.

The win was nothing short of amazing, and shutting out the Bucs miraculous.

“”We really didn’t think anyone could keep us from scoring,”” Gregg said after the game, almost astonished at what had just happened.

“”I’m proud of the fact that we got here, disappointed that we played our worst game in the most important one,”” O’Sullivan said. “”We simply didn’t show up to play today. We never got into our game because of the way they shut us down.””

Cordova explained the team’s defensive strategy.

“”Our plan was to double Missy [Gregg] whenever possible,”” she said. “”When we play against three forwards, the stopper drops back and marks one of the forwards. Today it happened to be me marking Missy.””

McManus knew he could not sacrifice too much to stop the Bucs. Other than moving Cordova back, a move that is within normal game plan, the Tritons made few changes to the style of play that has earned national championships six of the past seven seasons.

“”In the end, we just said, ‘Let’s play our game and see if they could handle it,'”” an elated McManus said. “”We played our game, had a bit of luck and got the result we were looking for.””

Just getting to the final proved to be tumultuous for the Tritons, while the Bucs cruised into the Championship game.

UCSD squeaked out a 3-2 win over the Norse of Northern Kentucky while Christian Brothers cruised to a 4-1 win over Franklin Pierce College (N.H.) in the semifinals in front of a then-record Triton Soccer Stadium crowd of 1,529.

In the first game, CBU played much of the first half without Gregg, but used a Saurin hat trick to propel them to a 3-0 halftime lead. Gregg came in at the half to score her record 73rd goal of the season and sealed the win for the Bucs.

With CBU easily advancing to the final, NKU and UCSD battled in a rematch of last season’s championship match — the Tritons came home with a 2-1 victory.

The home team used three headed goals, two from Erika Alfredson and one from Laura Dooly, and held off many late Norse charges and held on to the 3-2 win.

After the game, a downtrodden Northern Kentucky coach Bob Sheehan shook his head in disbelief.

“”We’ve been talking about corner kicks for the past 12 months after what happened last year [both of UCSD’s goals in the 2000 final were from corners] and we spent the last two weeks focusing on corner kicks. They just did a great job.””

Seniors Alfredson, Cordova, Cuder, Dooly, Hughes, Lauren Jacobs, Kara Morris and Nikki Richards leave the Tritons with three national titles and were integral in laying the foundation for a new Division II soccer dynasty for UCSD.

Cuder and Mendoza were also recently selected for the NCAA Division II All-American First Team. Sophomore Mendoza was the youngest selection to the team. Alfredson was a second team nomination.

After the championship, Alfredson, Cordova, Hughes, Jones and Mendoza were named to the All-Tournament team with special honors going to Jones (Offensive MVP) and Cordova (Defensive MVP).

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