The scene at Robert S. Harrington Field on Thursday, Nov. 19, was electric. The stands were packed, the weather was a chilly 32 degrees, and Western’s women’s soccer team was in the zone. The West Region top seed Vikings were set to take on the number two seed Azusa Pacific Cougars in a Sweet 16 matchup.
Western went on to win 1-0 and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Fans didn’t have to wait long for the excitement to begin. In the sixth minute, the Vikings drove down the field and after a couple of deflections, junior midfielder Caitlyn Jobanek put the ball in the back of the net with a strike inside the 18-yard box.
“It was very exciting, I just took a touch and turned and hit it low and hard and it went in, so it was really good,” Jobanek said. “Our pressure was really high so I was able to get the ball.”
For the rest of the first half, the Vikings kept possession of the ball, passed it around the backfield with ease and had a couple more opportunities at the opposing goal. Azusa Pacific didn’t posses the ball for more than 30 seconds at a time for the entire first half.
Head coach Travis Connell was very pleased with the way the Vikings started.
“We defended really well, we talked about getting out to a fast start, energy had to be high and we really did that,” Connell said. “The first 20 minutes we had the energy, we were in there and it turned out to be the game-winning goal.”
Western went into halftime securely holding onto a 1-0 lead thanks to Jobanek, but the Cougars came out strong in the second half, playing like they were facing elimination.
In the 53rd minute, Azusa Pacific had its best opportunity on goal when a Cougar attacker dribbled down the field and fired off a shot from about 23 yards out. The ball soared through the air and forced senior goalkeeper Ashley Haden to leap, stopping the ball from sailing into the upper netting. Haden grabbed the ball and Western didn’t look back.
Defense was key throughout the second half as the Vikings continued to move the ball around, keep it away from Azusa Pacific’s pressure and create a few more opportunities on goal. However, there was not another goal in the game.
“They definitely pressed us more than a lot of teams do. A lot of teams have sat back on us this season but I think that we took their pressure and we just played fast enough to get around them,” senior defender Delanee Nilles, GNAC Defensive Player of the Year, said.
As the game wound down the crowd began to get louder, anticipating the team’s advancement into the next round of the tournament. The final whistle blew and the Vikings cheered almost as loud as the entire fan section.
Jobanek’s early goal proved to be the difference-maker in the game. A goal like that sets the tone for the rest of the game, Connell said.
“These are elimination games so there are tons of emotion in all of the players, so when you get that early goal, it gives you a boost and it raises questions in your opponent. And then it’s up to you, that’s the in, and then you have to dig around and do the rest, so the goal was massive,” Connell said.
With this win, the Vikings advance to an Elite Eight showdown with Dallas Baptist University, the number two ranked team for the South Central Region. The game will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Harrington Field.
DALLAS BAPTIST UNIVERSITY PREVIEW:
Regular season record: 15-3-3
Corner kicks: 105
Leading goal scorer: Ashley Cox, 12 regular season goals
Assist leader: Maddie Owen, 9 regular season assists
Goalkeeper: Jenna Ackerly, 0.47 goals against average with 13 shutouts