Eyeing the throne
When it rains, it pours. It’s a cheesy saying, but some sports teams are so good they make clichés look like appropriate depictions of reality. Western women’s soccer is one of those teams.
Behind a barrage of second half goals, NCAA Division II West Region champion Western defeated South Central Region champion Colorado School of Mines 5-1 on Sunday, Nov. 20, in Golden, Colorado to advance to the NCAA Division II Tournament Final Four for a second straight season.
It was yet another dominant performance from Western, extending a 22-game winning streak dating back to a 3-0 victory over Academy of Art University on Sunday, Sept. 4. Western has won more games than ever this season, overtaking the 21-win mark set by last year’s Final Four team.
The match began in unfamiliar fashion for the Vikings as the Orediggers scored two minutes into the game. A long free kick bounced high and off the glove of junior goalkeeper Ashley Homer to give the School of Mines a 1-0 lead.
Western was quick to equalize in the 11th minute when a free kick from junior midfielder Emily Webster found the head of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year, junior defender Sierra Shugarts. Shugarts finished the service, making it clear Western wouldn’t waver after conceding an early goal.
“We knew we deserved this opportunity again.”
“Webster and I have this connection and on set plays she usually looks for my head, it all came together perfectly,” Shugarts said. “Perfect service and I got on the end of it.”
Freshman forward Liv Larson scored what would turn out to be the game winner in the 27th minute. Larson finished a shot in front of the goal off a cross from senior forward/midfielder Caitlyn Jobanek.
The Vikings carried the 2-1 lead into the half after trailing early, but were far from done attacking.
The Vikings got eight more shots off in the second half and converted three of them for goals.
Larson began the scoring flurry in the 61st minute with her second goal of the night. Her left footed shot caught the Orediggers’ goalkeeper by surprise to give the Vikings a 3-1 lead.
Seemingly unsatisfied by a two-goal lead, Western struck again in the 63rd minute. Freshman defender Emily Nelson headed home a free kick from Webster, giving the Vikings a 4-1 lead.
Senior forward Anna DeWeirdt capped the day’s scoring in the 83rd minute with her first goal of the season. A corner kick from redshirt freshman midfielder Emily Bunnell was headed on by redshirt freshman midfielder Lauren Carson. From there, DeWeirdt, who had missed most of the season with a broken wrist, finished the goal-scoring opportunity.
With the win, Western garnered its third NCAA tournament semifinal berth in the past four years. The victory came two days after Western took the West Region title with a 2-1 overtime thriller over the University of California, San Diego.
Sophomore forward Gabriela Pelogi scored two goals in Western’s victory over UCSD, including the game-winning golden goal. Pelogi played a key part in last season’s Final Four run.
“Everyone was just so proud of each other’s efforts in the whole game,” Pelogi said. “We knew we deserved this opportunity again.”
The Vikings have only given up eight goals all season, and have outscored opponents nine goals to two in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Two wins away from its first National Championship, Western will take on Atlantic Region champion Kutztown University at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1, in a Final Four showdown.
Columbus State University will play Grand Valley State University on the opposite side of the bracket at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1, for a place in the National Championship game. Grand Valley State is the three-time defending national champion and bounced Western from last season’s tournament with a 3-2 victory in the semifinals.