<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Looking to make its second consecutive appearance in the WAC tournament title game, the Utah State women’s soccer team came away with 2-1 victory over Seattle University in a down-to-the-wire finish Friday at Chuck and Gloria Bell field.
“It’s the tournament, every game is going to be tight and we didn’t expect anything less,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “It was very physical. On both ends there was a lot of desire out there and that’s what you’re going to get come tournament time. I’m just proud of the way our girls responded and got the job done today.”
It took some time for both teams to find their footing in the first half. Sloppy play and poor ball control made it difficult for either team to develop any quality chances. The Aggies outshot the Redhawks 9-4 in the first half, but mustered just one shot on goal to Seattle’s three.
As the teams settled in, tempers and emotions quickly brewed.
The teams combined for 26 total fouls, while the head officials issued a handful of warnings to both sides and issued a yellow card to USU sophomore defender Taryn Rose in the 32nd minute.
The Aggies shut down Seattle’s leading scorer in Stephanie Verdoia in the first half, keeping a body on her throughout and not allowing Verdoia a single shot in 90 minutes.
“Stephanie Verdoia is a huge play maker for Seattle,” senior defender Natalie Norris said. “I have the utmost respect for her. One of our goals was to take her out of the game, and we did that very well. We had our mids stay with her, and when she came forward me and Taryn stayed with her. We knew she was the heart of their offense and that if we shut her down we had a better chance in this game.”
But despite a solid showing from the defense, it was forward Jennifer Flynn who stole the spotlight on offense in the second half.
The 5-foot-3 junior earned a penalty kick for the Aggies in the 65th minute after being taken down inside the 18-yard-box, and Norris had no trouble giving the Aggies the 1-0 lead.
A second penalty kick went against USU in the 82nd minute, when junior defender Jessica Hoskin was called for a foul inside the penalty area. A well-placed kick from Julia Besagno kept the ball just out of reach of a diving Ashlyn Mulford to knot the score at 1-1 and deflate the crowd.
But just seven minutes later, Flynn struck back on an assist from Mari Miyashiro.
With a little more than a minute remaining, Miyashiro played a ball into the corner for Flynn, who hit a perfectly placed strike to squeeze the ball through the goalkeeper’s hands at the near post for the win.
“Mari played me a perfect ball,” Flynn said. “I shot it, goalie got her hand on it but it went in and it was just the best feeling in the world. Honestly, that was a cross. I was trying to get Lauren’s (Roundy) head on it, but I’ll take a goal too.”
The Aggies spent most of the first half without Miyashiro, who went down with an apparent ankle injury in the 13th minute and sat out the remainder of the half before returning in the second half and earning the game-winning assist.
Utah State improved to 7-0-3 against WAC opponents this season, and 13-2-6 overall. The Aggies advanced to their second straight WAC title game with the win, where they will face WAC co-champion and No. 2 seed Denver, after the Pioneers defeated Texas State in the first semi-final.
“The girls afterward were so excited,” Cairns said. “That crowd kept them in it, the HURD was over there doing the chants and I think in a tight game like this, little things like that make a huge difference. They really were the 12th man for us today.”
Kickoff for the championship match is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
“Being able to advance to the conference tournament final again was a dream of all of ours,” Norris said. “So I’m glad we were able to achieve that today.”