KANSAS CITY, MO–– (WWUVikings.com) The GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Emily Webster perfectly placed a free kick inside the top right corner of the goal in the 76th minute of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer National Championship match to give Western Washington its first national title in program history with a 3-2 victory over three-time defending champion Grand Valley State on Saturday afternoon at Swope Soccer Village.
The championship was the 10th team national championship in WWU Athletics history (9 NCAA, 1 NAIA), joining the 2012 Men’s Basketball Division II title, 7 consecutive Rowing national titles from 2005-11 and the 1988 NAIA Softball National Championship.
“We are all really excited on winning the national championship. I am just really proud of these players for what they have accomplished,” said head coach Travis Connell. “This championship means a lot to the players, to our staff, to our university and to the city of Bellingham.
“Winning a national championship means that I’ve had the privilege to coach some fantastic players. And we saw it tonight. They showed a ton of character, performed well, and every time a very good Grand Valley State team got back into the game, we had an answer. And it’s because of the character of this team.”
In her final collegiate soccer match, senior midfielder Caitlyn Jobanek (Springfield, OR/Thurston) scored twice, giving the Vikings the lead both times. The Lakers, however, found an equalizer both times to tie the score 2-2. When Webster fired the ball into the net on the free kick, that gave the Vikings the lead for good, beating Grand Valley State by the same score that the Lakers beat the Vikings in the semifinals last year.
The Vikings (24-0-1) captured their first-ever NCAA women’s soccer national championship in record-breaking fashion with their 24th consecutive victory, breaking the all-time GNAC record for longest winning streak. Those 24 wins all came this season, breaking another GNAC record for most wins in a single season. Both those records were held by the 2007 Seattle Pacific team that was the last squad from the conference to lift the ultimate prize.
Jobanek put the Vikings ahead in the 18th minute with a well-placed shot from approximately 20 yards out, cutting toward the middle of the field and firing a left-footed strike past a diving goalkeeper to the upper-left corner of the net for her eighth goal of the season.
Grand Valley State, who made its eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA II Final Four, tied the game in the 33rd minute as Gabriella Mencotti flicked a lead pass up and into the 18-yard box where Jayma Martin was able to allude oncoming WWU goalkeeper Ashley Homer and control the pass to score on a rolling shot to the far post.
The scored didn’t remain tied for long as Taylor Hallquist (So., Vancouver, WA/Columbia River) dished the ball to Jobanek who dribbled up to the top of the box from the right side of the goal and turned and shot into the far post for another go-ahead goal in the 37th minute.
The Vikings appeared to cushion their lead to 3-1 when sophomore forward Gabriela Pelogi (Federal Way, WA) broke away from her defender and fired a shot into the back of the net, but the flat was up on an offside call.
Grand Valley State scored another equalizer when Clare Carlson had her own shot from long range go to the back of the net in the 72nd minute to tie the game 2-2. It was only the second time this year that the Vikings had allowed two goals in one match after having done so in a 3-2 win against UC San Diego in September.
Western Washington got straight back on the attack and a foul 25 yards outside the box gave arguably the nation’s best player at taking free kicks a chance to give her team the lead. With her teammates lined up along the edge of the 18-yard box, Webster took two steps and took a shot with her left foot towards the right side of the net. The grazed the crossbar in the upper-left quadrant of the goal and into the net for the eventual national championship-winning goal.
“I had the best view in the house, let me tell you,” Connell said about Jobanek and Webster’s goals. “They were fantastic goals and that’s probably what it takes to beat a team like this… Caitlyn and Webster scored some amazing goals today.”
The Vikings made no mistakes with their third lead of the game, not even allowing GVSU to take a shot in the final 15 minutes to wrap up the season as the national champions with a 24-0-1 record. Webster finished the year with 4 goals and 8 assists. The senior class of Jobanek, Elise Aylward (Renton, WA/Lindbergh), Becca Cates (Poulsbo, WA/North Kitsap), Anna DeWeirdt (Sammamish, WA/Skyline) and Erin Russell (Brier, WA/Mountlake Terrace) finishes its four years with an 81-5-7 record and made three trips to the NCAA Division II Final Four.
Junior Sierra Shugarts was named the Defensive MVP and Jobanek was named the Offensive MVP of the National Championship. Shugarts, Jobanek, Webster, Pelogi and freshman forward Liv Larson (Arlington, WA) Pelogi were all named to the All-Tournament Team.
“They have so much belief in themselves and the person next to them and it showed up many times this season,” Connell said. “That’s inside, that’s who you are as a person and that’s what showed up. The players just said, ‘we’re going to go and win this thing no matter what gets in our way.’”
The Vikings became the fourth GNAC team to win a NCAA national championship, joining Seattle men’s soccer in 2004, Seattle Pacific women’s soccer in 2007 and Western Washington men’s basketball in 2012.
Match Notes: Caitlyn Jobanek played in her 91st career match, tying the program record held with Catherine Miles (2012-15)…WWU’s 24-game winning streak broke the GNAC record previously held by Seattle Pacific during its 2007 national championship season…the Vikings finished the season with a .400 goals against average, out-scoring opponents 66-10.