For over a month, the Western women’s soccer team has towered over every other Division II team in the nation. On Saturday, Nov. 12, the Central Washington University Wildcats traveled to Robert S. Harrington Field in an attempt to topple the giant in the second round of the NCAA Division II Championship Tournament.
However, the Vikings struck just 22 seconds into the match, proving its undefeated regular season was not a fluke. A 40-yard through ball from sophomore defender Taylor Hallquist sent sophomore forward Gabriela Pelogi streaking down the right side of the field. Pelogi then crossed the ball to freshman forward Liv Larson who flicked the ball past the keeper from six yards away to give the Vikings an early 1-0 lead.
“I knew I had to be there in case [Pelogi] crossed it, and I just went for it,” Larson said. “I didn’t know if I’d get there, but I did.”
“It’s a huge mountain for the other team to climb, and it’s exactly the way we wanted to start the game.”
After a first-round bye and an extra week of rest, the Vikings defeated CWU, 2-0.
This is 14-year head coach Travis Connell’s fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. With that much experience, Connell knows how important a fast start is.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start,” Connell said. “It’s a huge mountain for the other team to climb, and it’s exactly the way we wanted to start the game.”
Western almost scored its second early goal when senior midfielder Caitlyn Jobanek was fouled in the box to earn a penalty kick for her team. Senior forward Elise Aylward had the duty of trying to put it home, but her attempt was saved by the Wildcat goalie.
Aylward redeemed herself at the 15-minute mark when she stepped up to take a corner. She didn’t need the help of her teammates as her service flew past the keeper and floated just inside the far post to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead.
“It always feels good to have a short memory, with misses especially,” Aylward said. “I just tried to focus on the next play.”
In the second half, Western played against the Bellingham winds that persisted through the entirety of the match. The team still managed to keep the Wildcats scoreless, thanks in part to four saves from junior goalkeeper Ashley Homer. Western’s 16th shutout of the season tied a school record.
The Vikings will play West Region second-seed University of California San Diego in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The time, date and location of the match have yet to be determined.