Running Down a Dream

    The women’s soccer team put together two tremendous performances last week to advance to the Final Four stage of the NCAA national tournament for the first time since 2003. The 12th-ranked Tritons collected two 1-0 victories, upsetting No. 9 Seattle Pacific in the West Region finals and St. Edward’s University in the quarterfinal round held in Austin, Texas.

    The Tritons met with Seattle Pacific on Nov. 18, beating the Falcons 1-0 in a single elimination match that decided the West Region champions. The two teams were evenly matched throughout the game, with both squads fighting up and down the pitch for possession. The Falcons managed to outshoot the Tritons 10-8, recording a number of very dangerous attempts on goal, but the two teams retired after the first half with the game still tied 0-0.

    The lone goal did not come until the 73rd minute. With the Tritons mounting increasing pressure on the Falcon defense late into the game, junior midfielder Shelby Wong found junior forward Sarah McTigue off of a throw-in. McTigue got around her defender to find herself alone with the ball outside of the Falcon goal box.  McTigue — recently named to the All-West region second team — cracked a hard shot from 25 yards out into the corner of the goal

    to beat Falcon goalkeeper Maddie Dickinson and put the Tritons up 1-0.

    With 17 minutes remaining in the match, the Falcons switched up their formation to add an extra attacker in an attempt to equalize. In the 74th minute Falcon forward Kellie Zakrzewski found herself one versus one with junior goalkeeper Kristin Armstrong, who was able to deny the shot.

    “I knew it was going to be a really tight game, so I had to keep a clean sheet for my team,” Armstrong said. “It’s really tough to come back from behind in a playoff game, and I don’t want to take any chances this late in the postseason. I knew that I could not let the attacker equalize. I ran out, set myself into position, made myself as big as possible and also got kind of lucky that [Zakrzewski] hit my knee.”

    The keeper was called on four times throughout the game, denying two Falcon forwards in one versus one opportunities and collecting her 14th shutout of the season.

    The Tritons utilized 19 out of their 20 available members in the match against Seattle Pacific. Senior captain Lisa Bradley said it took every one of those players to get the win.

    “The players that came off the bench really contributed to the game; they were able to step in and immediately impact the game which is really hard to do,” Bradley said. “All of them brought more energy and created chances.”

    The win moved the Tritons into the quarterfinals, where they faced the eighth-ranked St. Edward’s Hilltoppers on Nov. 20 at the Hilltoppers’ home field in Austin, Texas.

    UCSD was unfazed by the overwhelming support for St. Edward’s, as the Tritons netted what turned out to be the game-winner early in the match. In the 22nd minute, sophomore defender Hayley Johnson lined up to take one of her nine corner kicks of the night. The defender sent a right-footed ball toward the near post, which was cleared for another corner kick. Johnson lined up again, this time switching to her left, and sent a driven ball into the penalty area. The ball found the feet of senior forward Annette Ilg, who won the ball amongst a crowd of St. Edward’s defenders to score.

    Ilg and Johnson lead the team in goals scored and assists, respectively, both with 10 on the season.

    For the remainder of the match, the Triton backline — composed of Bradley, Johnson, sophomore defender Ellen Wilson and junior defender Sara Spaventa — shut out the Hilltoppers and preserved the 1-0 score.

    “I didn’t have to make any saves against Texas, but I wasn’t exactly bored,” Armstrong said. “We scored early on, so it was scary trying to hold onto the lead for so long, especially since they were playing with a lot of momentum with their home crowd behind them. I’m just glad we were able to pull away with a win in regulation time.”

    The 1-0 win marks the Tritons’ third straight victory against teams ranked higher then them in the national standings, a trend which they will need to continue in the Final Four. The Tritons will face No. 1 St. Rose — a squad that has scored 84 goals in its past 23 matches, and has won 47 out of its past 48 games over the past two seasons.

    Junior captain Annie Wethe said the Tritons are weary of their East Coast opponents, but are excited to advance in the tournament.

    “We are all really excited to be going to Kentucky for the Final Four,” Wethe said. “Probably the hardest thing for us is to not get overexcited. We just need to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them because that’s what’s been working for us.”

    St. Rose has a 23-0-1 record on the season. The Tritons will look for the upset on Thursday, Dec. 2 in Louisville, Ky. The winner of that match will take on the winner of Grand Valley State and Florida Tech, who will play on the same day.

    Readers can contact Rachel Uda at [email protected].

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