Sensational Season Ends in OT

    After starting the season 10-0-1, an onslaught of injuries
    blindsided the UCSD women’s soccer team, and the Tritons were never able to
    fully recover, culminating in a 2-1 loss to Cal State Dominguez Hills at
    the NCAA Division II National
    Championship regionals on Nov. 8. The heartbreaking overtime defeat ended the
    Tritons’ season, which at one point had UCSD ranked as the country’s No. 2
    team.

    Senior midfielder Ali Lai tied for the team lead in goals with seven on the year and also added two assists for 16 total points. Her contributions will be sorely missed next year when UCSD takes the field without her. (Sanh Luong/Guardian)

    In a twist of ironic cruelty, it was the Cal State Dominguez
    Hill Toros that helped start the Tritons’ late-season slide. On Oct. 10, the
    Toros dealt UCSD its first loss, a 1-0 shutout at Triton Soccer Stadium. The
    Tritons would go on to win only two of their next five games, ending with the
    regional loss in Seattle.

    The injuries took an unprecedented toll on the Tritons
    throughout the year, even forcing them to start the season short a few players.
    Toward the end of the year, more and more players joined the ranks on injured
    reserve, but the resilient Tritons pushed through all the way to the end.

    “We were probably the
    only team with a starting lineup that had never played together for the whole
    season,” head coach Brian McManus said. “From the beginning of the season we
    always had at least two injured starters. It’s amazing that our planned
    starting 11 never played together.”

    During the regular season, CSUDH won the series with a 0-0
    draw and a 1-0 victory. Ever since UCSD moved to Division II, the in-conference
    rivalry that the Tritons have developed with the Toros has reached epic proportions,
    making every meeting between the two teams all the more heated.

    On Nov. 8, it was again Dominguez Hills that drew first
    blood, with the Toros’ senior midfielder Amy Livergood netting the game’s first
    goal in the 20th minute. The Tritons, who scored 31 total goals on the season,
    were held scoreless for the remainder of the first half. After regrouping
    during halftime, UCSD came out of the gates strong and in the 67th minute,
    junior forward Natasha Belak-Berger scored the equalizing goal on a shot that
    found the upper right corner of the net. The goal was Belak-Berger’s seventh of
    the year and was assisted by senior midfielder Ali Lai, her second assist this
    season.

    Neither team was able to push across a game-winning goal for
    the rest of regulation play, sending the already tense game into an
    exhilarating overtime period. With 1:10 left in the first overtime period,
    Dominguez Hills junior forward Yvonne Vasquez sent a dagger through the heart
    of the Triton faithful with a goal that just passed through the diving hands of
    junior keeper Jessica McGovern. The goal would prove to be the game winner,
    with the Tritons unable to score in the final minute.

    Sophomore midfielder Alexia Zatarain was stunned when the
    game-winning shot took the air. And when it swooshed into the back of the net,
    she became all too aware of the goal’s consequences.

    “I saw the ball go up in the air and in the back of my mind
    I was hoping and praying that the ball would just sail past the goal,” Zatarain
    said. “It was heartbreaking, especially for the seniors. I can’t even imagine
    how the seniors feel, it’s horrible to think about what it means to them. We
    played a good game of soccer but when it comes down to it that one moment
    changes everything and after that you don’t get a second chance.”

    As one of the team’s main veteran leaders, the career-ending
    loss cut especially deep for midfielder Lai.

    “It sucks, especially losing to our biggest rivals,” Lai
    said. “Everybody expects us to go farther than the first round and so the loss
    was really hard. It’s good that there are so many seniors on our team to
    support each other because we are all going through this together.”

    In addition to Lai, the Tritons will lose seniors Alie
    Avina, Chelsey Campbell, Stacy Johnson, Rachel Lindenfeld, Nicole Pepper,
    Caitlin Ryan, Lauren Segars and Kathy Sepulveda. McManus expressed his pride
    and admiration for his seniors’ leadership and his team’s achievement and
    determination.

    “For what the team has done with all of the injuries, no
    other team in the conference or the whole country could have done,” McManus
    said. “This team was the probably one of the biggest achieving teams that we
    have ever had at UCSD. To do what they did was unbelievable.”

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