Vikings advance to NCAA 2 Final Four with romp over Orediggers

vikings_logoGOLDEN, CO –– (WWU release) For the third time in the last four years and the second consecutive season, the Western Washington University women’s soccer team has advanced to the NCAA Division II Final Four.

(Cover photo: WWU Twitter. See caption below)

The Vikings scored five unanswered goals after falling behind in the first two minutes of the game, beating South Central Region champion and nationally-ranked No. 6 Colorado Mines 5-1 on Sunday afternoon at Stermole Stadium on the Colorado School of Mines campus.

Freshman forward Liv Larson (Arlington, WA) scored a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winning goal, to lead the Vikings to their 22nd consecutive victory to improve to 22-0-1 on the season. The national quarterfinal victory over the Orediggers gives Western a school-record 22 wins on the season, bettering the 21 wins from last season’s Final Four team. Mines ends their season with a 20-3-1 record after winning the South Central Regional Championship.

“This team has continued to improve, and amaze me, from the moment they stepped on campus for fall training,” said head coach Travis Connell, who recorded his 200th win with the program today. “This is a team with a ton of confidence and determination, and they will be tough to beat. We are excited to go to the Final Four again, but this team is already looking at the next two games with steely determination.”

WWU moves on to the national semifinal and will face Kutztown on December 1 at 8 pm CT/6 pm PT at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Orediggers stole a page out of the Vikings playbook with an early goal to jump out to the 1-0 lead. South Central Region Player of the Year Ashley Garnier gave the Mines the early lead just two minutes into the game when her long free kick in the second minute bounded high and off the glove on the extended reach of WWU goalkeeper Ashley Homer (Jr., Puyallup, WA/College of Saint Rose).

“A lot of times, when you give up that early goal in an odd situation, that can turn things sideways,” said Connell. “We reacted positively to the outcome and had confidence in our ability to comeback and quickly tie the game and then go ahead. You have to have that mentality if you are going to compete for the national championship.”

The Vikings tied things up nine minutes later in the 11th minute when GNAC Player of the Year Sierra Shugarts (Jr., Federal Way, WA/Decatur) put a header into the back of the goal off a perfectly-placed free kick from Emily Webster (Jr., Bellingham, WA/Sehome).

Western then forged ahead 2-1 with another header goal, this one coming in the 27th minute by Larson at point-blank range off a perfectly-placed cross from Caitlyn Jobanek (Springfield, OR/Thurston).

WWU took a 2-1 lead into halftime, outshooting Mines 11-4 as they overcame the early 1-0 deficit.

A pair of early second-half goals put the game out of reach, sealing the Vikings trip to the Final Four. Larson scored her second goal of the game (7th of the season), making something out of nothing on a well-struck left-footed shot that found the back of the net in the 61st minute. A little more than two minutes later, freshman Emily Nelson (Puyallup, WA/Bellarmine Prep) headed home a free kick from Webster at 62:19 to extend the lead to 4-1.

Senior Anna DeWeirdt (Samammish, WA/Skyline/New Hampshire), who missed most of the season with a broken wrist, finished off the victory with her first goal of the season in the in the 82nd minute. DeWeirdt executed a shot to the far post off a corner from Emily Bunnell (RS Fr., Kirkland, WA/Lake Washington) and a header by Lauren Carson (RS Fr., Sammamish, WA/Skyline).

“This weekend really prepared us well for Kansas City and the Final Four,” said Connell. “We played two really tough teams on the road. Both teams pushed us as we were down in both games for the first time this season. We respond to adversity on the scoreboard and had confidence in what we were doing, no matter the situation.”

Up Next: The Vikings now move on to the NCAA Division II Final Four and will face Atlantic Region champion Kutztown University in the national semifinal on Thursday, December 1 in Kansas City, Missouri…the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Final Four will be played at Children’s Mercy Victory Field at Swope Soccer Village, the training site for the MLS Sporting Kansas City…the game is scheduled to start at 8 pm CT/6 pm PT…the Kutztown Bears (19-4-0) beat Bridgeport 1-0 to advance to their first Division II Final Four…three-time defending national champion Grand Valley State will meet Columbus State in the other national semifinal in Kansas City…Columbus State, Grand Valley State and Western Washington return to the Final Four for the second consecutive season.

Match Notes: Head coach Travis Connell recorded his 200th win as the head coach of the women’s program (also had 125 wins as head coach of the WWU men’s program)…WWU’s winning streak is now at 22 consecutive games following a season-opening 0-0 tie at Sonoma State…WWU has allowed only 8 goals this season heading into the national semifinal…improved to 12-6 all-time in NCAA tournament games…Caitlyn Jobanek played in her 89th career match, 2nd-most in program history (Catherine Miles – 91)…Emily Webster had a pair of assists giving her a team-leading 8 on the season (18 in career)…Ashley Homer made 4 saves and has allowed only 7 goals in 22 games (0.33 Goals Against Average).

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