KANSAS CITY— Western women’s soccer is now over the hump, “curse” broken, as the Vikings set their sights on the first National Championship match in program history.
“It feels great,” redshirt junior goalkeeper Ashley Homer said. “We’ve been working for this all year long. We got over the curse.”
Domination would be an understatement for the team’s 3-0 victory over Kutztown University in the semifinal round of the NCAA Division II Soccer Championships.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the Vikings tallied 35 shots and 21 corner kick opportunities; the 21 corner kicks are a single-game record in the NCAA Tournament. Kutztown on the other hand had no shots and no corner kicks all match long.
“We worked really hard throughout the entire match, regardless of the score or the way the match was being played,” Head Coach Travis Connell said. “We had a ton of effort from our players and in the end, when all things are equal, effort can decide games and I thought we had a lot of effort today.”
Senior midfielder Becca Cates started the scoring off in the 25th minute off a header from five yards out. The goal, assisted by freshman forward Liv Larson, was Cates’ second goal of the season and couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It’s really nice going into games knowing that at any point anyone can score,” Cates said. “We’re all capable of contributing to the scoreboard, I’m really proud of this team.”
Following the completion of the first half, Western found itself up just 1-0 despite 19 shots. This was potentially nerve racking given Kutztown’s 1-0 win over Bridgeport University in the elite eight that saw Bridgeport outshoot Kutztown 25-2.
“We got into the locker room and before I even got in there they were already talking about what they needed to do to get that next goal,” Connell said. “It was all business for them today.”
That next goal came in the 59th minute off the foot of Western’s leading goal scorer, sophomore forward Gabriela Pelogi, who now has 11 on the season. Pelogi coaxed the ball in from six yards out off an assist from freshman forward Peyton Chick.
“It was important because that [goal] would give us a good lead,” Pelogi said. “It’s really exciting we’ve made it this far.”
If the game wasn’t iced in the 88th minute, with Western leading 2-0, freshman forward/midfielder Jordyn Bartelson made sure it was with her fourth goal of the season — assisted by junior Colleen Lindsay, her first of the season.
“This team has so much will and determination to keep getting goals and make sure we win. I’m excited to see what we can do on Saturday,” Cates said.
It would be a disservice to Western’s defense though to focus solely on goals and assists.
“We know we have to be able to set the table in order to score,” Connell said. “Our centerbacks and our outside backs and our holding mid[fielder] are very important for that. And even Ashley [Homer], the goalkeeper, at times is able to release pressure and end up with teams dropping off so we can move them and create the space we want to attack.”
Defenders Sierra Shugarts, Taylor Hallquist, Erin Russell and Annaliese Laurila “set the table” for the likes of Cates, Pelogi, Bartelson, Larson and senior forward Elise Aylward, all night long. Those four, along with midfielders Caitlyn Jobanek and Emily Webster, controlled possession masterfully — to the point you could overhear conversations of passersby wondering if Kutztown had even touched the ball at all.
“This was one of our best games all year,” Shugarts said.
The championship match will be held at 1 p.m. PST, Saturday Dec. 3 at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Missouri. The Vikings take on three-time reigning champion Grand Valley State University, who ended Western’s season in the final four last season.