Western women’s soccer team interacts with fans after their win against Seattle Pacific University during an away game in Seattle on Thursday, Nov. 7. // Photo by Nolan Baker
By Nolan Baker
A few hundred feet away from Interbay Stadium, just past the west end line and across the parking lot, freight trains thunder past the Seattle Pacifc University Falcons hosting the No. 7 nationally-ranked Western women’s soccer team.
Western resembled those very freight trains that rolled through Interbay on Thursday night. For the entirety of the game, and the conference season, the Vikings were an unstoppable force, crushing teams with their unmatched speed and immense strength.
Led by their stingy defense and a 24th minute goal from sophomore forward Dayana Diaz, Western went ahead for an early lead and never put on the brakes throughout the game.
After a convincing 2-0 victory over the SPU Falcons, the Vikings became the third team in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference history to finish the conference season with a 12-0-0 record. This feat has previously only been achieved by Western in 2016 and SPU in 2007.
Coming into the last game of the regular season, both teams were locked into the top two spots on the GNAC standings. Both teams have also clinched a berth in the GNAC Championships which begin on Nov. 14 at Interbay Stadium.
Western was nine points ahead of SPU for first place in the conference, so a win by the hosting Falcons would get them within six points by season’s end. But to say that this game meant nothing underplays the intense rivalry these two teams have.
“It’s always going to be intense,” SPU head coach Arby Busey said. “Regardless of whether there’s a lot on the line, a little on the line, they’re always going to bring it, we’re always going to bring what we’ve got, and so it’s a game that we’re always looking forward to.”
That intensity and rivalry was best exemplified in the 59th minute when senior midfielder Jordyn Bartelson and SPU freshman midfielder Chloe Gellhaus were both given yellow cards for a fight that broke out after both players tried desperately to gain possession of the ball.
“We could find each other in the backyard and it would be as intense as always,” Busey said. “That’s what great competitors do, that’s what great rivals do.”
The Vikings were awarded a free kick and drove down the field and began suffocating the Falcon defense with a constant barrage of attacks.
After out-muscling a pair of SPU defenders for a loose ball inside the penalty box, senior captain Liv Larson shot a rocket into the bottom left corner of the goal that was almost corralled by the opposing goalkeeper but squeaked across the goal line.
Within two minutes, the Vikings had drove over and scored on the Falcons on their home field, taking a decisive two goal lead that they rode for the rest of the game.
SPU, while remaining a consistent GNAC contender, has not beaten the Vikings in 19 consecutive games. Western now leads the all-time record between the two teams 20-18-6.
While Western has dominated their conference foes, their season started off with uncertainty. Western lost two close road games in September, the first loss coming in a 1-0 overtime defeat against Cal State Los Angeles and the second a week later when they lost 2-1 against Colorado School of Mines.
After the first six games of the regular season Western was only 4-2. Since then, they have won twelve straight games with a combined score of 45-3.
Western head coach Travis Connell said those losses early in the season were a wake-up call for his team.
“We played good teams and tested ourselves on the road,” Connell said. “So we definitely learned from those losses and from the close wins. That’s the key, I think, is to continue to learn from those things.”
Now the Vikings look ahead to the GNAC Championships, where they will face the fourth seed team in the 4 p.m. match on Nov. 14 at Interbay Stadium in Seattle.
These conference games just prepare us for the postseason, and with only a couple games left, it’s crucial that we use them to make our game better,” said junior goalkeeper Natalie Dierickx after Western’s win against Northwest Nazarene University last week.