UCSD Reclaims State Title

    The No. 20 Tritons celebrate after pulling off a decisive 3-1 victory over the Toros in the CCAA Championship game. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian)

    WOMEN’S SOCCER — For the seventh time in nine years, the No. 20 Tritons hold the esteemed title of California Collegiate Athletic Association Champions.
    The team took back control of one of the toughest conferences in the nation with a 3-1 domination over Cal State Dominguez Hills in the CCAA finals on Nov. 9. The win came on the heels of an emotional, penalty-kick victory against San Francisco State on Nov. 7 in the semifinals.

    The state championship will take the Tritons national, earning them an automatic bid into the NCAA Division II Championships, set to begin Nov. 13. UCSD awaits the announcement of the final, 48-team lineup — which will arrive today by 2 p.m. — for a better idea of when, where and who they will be playing.
    After sneaking by San Francisco State in the semifinals, the Tritons charged into what they knew would be a highly physical match against Cal State Dominguez Hills.

    Senior Natasha Belak-Berger was proud of the team’s composure throughout the brutal face-off.

    “Everyone got knocked down and got up more than any other game this season,” she said. “[CSUDH] was pushing with everything they had, and we just had to weather the storm. ”

    Senior Kelly Mayo battles with Toro defender Cassie McKay for possession in a physical game between the two teams. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian)

    As bodies flew at seemingly every battle for possession, the Triton offense got the push it desperately needed when freshman midfielder Anne Wethe scored her first goal of the season only 10 minutes into the game. The goal broke a streak of nearly 350 minutes of scoreless play for UCSD.

    Up 1-0, the Tritons saw their second goal of the match off the foot of another freshman. This time, it was midfielder Courtney Capobianco, who found the back of the net after receiving a pass from fellow freshman forward Sarah McTigue and flipping the ball over the Toro goalie. Like Wethe before her, Capobianco’s goal was her first of the season.

    Knowing its season was on the line, CSUDH came out firing in the second half, cutting the deficit to one with a score in the 63rd minute. Senior goalkeeper Jessica McGovern rushed out from the net to meet the Toro offenders, but was instead forced to watch the ball soar just over her head and bounce into the goal.

    The Tritons fell back into power when senior forward Kelly Mayo — dribbling the ball through the box — was clipped from behind by a CSUDH defender, who was carded for the foul play. Belak-Berger nailed her third penalty kick of the tournament to give the team a 3-1 lead.

    Despite being outshot 15-13 during the match, UCSD found itself with far more scoring opportunities than usual — an area in which the team has struggled over its last five matches.

    “We just kept doing the same thing that we were doing,” head coach Brian McManus said. “You go through three or four games where you can’t buy a bit of luck, but it comes back. We’ve had opportunities but were unable to finish — and today, we finished.”

    The players could have used little of that offensive luck against San Francisco State in the CCAA semifinals: The Gators and Tritons battled for 110 minutes without a single goal, despite chances on both sides of the field.

    UCSD’s most promising set-up arrived in the final seconds of the game’s first overtime, when senior defender Amanda Esquivel lofted the ball across the field to Belak-Berger, who strode past the sleeping Gator defense to knock a shot past the keeper and barely over the goal line.

    Both the team and its supporters went wild on false hopes that the Tritons had captured the victory — but the referee soon whistled otherwise, claiming the ball had entered the goal seconds after the game’s official end.

    Belak-Berger said that after the call was made, she fell to the ground in exhaustion and disappointment.

    “I wish it would’ve counted,” she said. “It was a long game and everyone was physically tired. I had to pick myself up and keep playing.”

    UCSD won the shootout coin toss and elected to shoot first, challenging the traditional belief that kicking second is advantageous.

    “I’m a big believer in putting pressure on them,” McManus said. “Why would you want to shoot with the pressure on you when you can apply it on them?”

    That’s exactly what Belak-Berger was able to achieve, calmly netting UCSD’s first penalty kick into the top right corner. But the Tritons failed to match San Francisco State’s next two conversions, giving the Gators a 2-1 advantage.

    For UCSD’s fourth kick, Capobianco nailed the ball just past the outstretched arms of the Gator goalkeeper and into the right side of the goal, knotting the shootout up at two. Both teams then missed their fifth and final shots, sending the teams into sudden death.

    McGovern delivered huge stop after huge stop during the do-or-die period, pulling a final block that made Belak-Berger’s second penalty goal the hard-fought match’s winning point.
    In the longest game McManus has seen as a head coach, seniors Belak-Berger and McGovern came through big.

    “Jess [McGovern] did her job, which allowed me to play my role,” Belak-Berger said. “Pressure pushes you and I thrive on it by turning it into something positive.”

    Belak-Berger and McGovern were respectively named the CCAA offensive and defensive players of the tournament, and honored with positions on the all-tournament team, along with Capobianco, Esquivel and Wethe.

    McManus pointed out that different players have different roles — while it was the seniors who led the team to victory against San Francisco State, it was the freshmen who ended up coming through, accounting for two of the three goals against Cal State Dominguez Hills.

    UCSD’s battle for the national title will begin later this week. Though the tournament’s details haven’t yet been revealed, McManus has his predictions.

    “I’m about 99 percent sure we’re going to be heading to Seattle,” he said. “We need to rest and get our heads right before we travel up there.”

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