The UC San Diego women’s soccer (3–10–6, 2–4–4 Big West) team fell just short of victory on their Senior Night, losing 1–0 to California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo (9–6–3, 6–1–3 Big West). A pre-game celebration of the team’s graduating seniors seemed to inspire the Tritons, who put on an all-around impressive performance against the Mustangs. However, Cal Poly SLO held onto a 53rd-minute goal to win the game and clinched the Big West’s regular season crown.
UCSD opened the first half of senior night on fire, putting immense pressure on the Cal Poly SLO back line. Senior midfielders Kate Hottinger, Mika Celeste, and Christina Oddone ran the show in the first few minutes, controlling the field in their final game for the Tritons. UCSD had several near-goals, but the Tritons were unable to directly challenge the Cal Poly SLO goalkeeper.
Around the 15-minute mark, the momentum of the game shifted, and Cal Poly SLO gained the advantage. A deflected shot by the Mustangs in the 16th minute led to the first corner of the match, but a dangerous cross was headed clear. Minutes later, Cal Poly SLO was awarded a free kick after a questionable yellow card was shown to senior defender Katelyn Meyer. However, the ensuing shot was bounced to UCSD’s junior goalkeeper Keara Fitzgerald for her first of eight saves in the match.
The Tritons and the Mustangs played a game of cat and mouse for the remainder of the half, with both teams having spells of possession. Fitzgerald’s booming goal kicks launched several UCSD attacks, but flicked headers from midfield found the Cal Poly SLO’s goalkeeper, not Triton wingers. Fitzgerald was instrumental in keeping the game scoreless, as she made a diving stop and two leaping catches in quick succession to deny Cal Poly SLO an opener.
The best chance of the first period came in the final seconds. UCSD earned a corner, and a driven cross was excellently struck into the center of the box. Sophomore midfielder Camryn Borg’s would-be buzzer-beating header floated over the outstretched arm of the Mustang goalkeeper, but unfortunately for the Tritons, over the crossbar as well. The half-time whistle signaled a scoreless first-half, and the Tritons were incredibly unlucky not to lead at the break.
The second-half began frantically, with the Tritons’ substitute senior goalkeeper Grace Vlandis forced into a save almost immediately. In her first and final appearance at Triton Soccer Stadium, graduating senior Vlandis parried a 1-on-1 shot out of play for a highlight reel-worthy first career save. Somehow the Mustangs could not find the net on the ensuing 50th-minute corner, firing three shots and hitting the woodwork twice.
Three minutes later, however, Cal Poly SLO opened the scoring. An ambitious cross from 20 yards bounced in front of the Mustang striker who mishit the ball but did just enough to score past Vlandis, who expected a better connection on the shot. While Cal Poly SLO had opened the half well, the Tritons could count themselves very unfortunate to have been beaten by such a goal.
After going down 1-0, the Tritons responded extremely well and pushed hard to regain their standing. An effort by senior midfielder Sophia Bruno in the 63rd minute almost tied the match, but her shot fell inches wide of the post. Fitzgerald came back into the game for Vlandis and remarkably kept the Mustangs at bay with two more incredible diving saves. The Tritons’ best chance of the half was a shot by Courtney Hilliard in the 74th minute. The midfielder cut back onto her right foot from 25 yards and lifted a ball toward the far post. Her effort seemed destined for the top corner of the net, but a fingertip save denied a goal of the season candidate.
The last 10 minutes of the game were frantic with the Tritons desperately searching for an equalizer. However, the Mustangs maintained possession and denied the Tritons any opportunity to score. The game — and the season — ended in a narrow 1-0 loss for UCSD, who watched on as Cal Poly celebrated their regular season title.
After the game, The UCSD Guardian spoke with Coach Kristin Jones about the team’s efforts. Jones stated, “that was a very inspired performance for us against the team that won the conference. [It was] a very competitive game from us, you saw our seniors play hard, but you also saw the rest of the team play hard for them as well, so I’m just really proud of the performance,” Jones said.
Jones also reflected on the season, saying, “on paper, our record might not have been exactly what we wanted it to be … but we won or tied half of our games, [and] even though it doesn’t feel great, [it’s] pretty successful considering our strength of schedule.”
UCSD ends their second season transitioning to Division I with a 2–4–4 record in the Big West. The Tritons will return to competitive play next August to kickoff their 2023 campaign.
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Fischer of UCSD Athletics