Forwards Joana Houplin and Catherine Miles each scored second-half goals, as the Western Washington University women's soccer team defeated Montana State University Billings, 2-0, to win the inaugural Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday, Nov. 3, in Tukwila.
The Vikings, 17-3-0, earn the GNAC's automatic berth in the West Regional of the NCAA Division II National Tournament, which begins on Nov. 8.
"MSUB is a good team, and they were well-prepared," WWU coach Travis Connell said in a phone interview. "They made it difficult for us. I'm proud of our team for sticking to the game plan and finding a way to win."
Tournament MVP Kristin Maris had the best opportunity of a scoreless opening half, getting free on the left side of the penalty area and hitting a low shot just wide of the far post. The Vikings had a 5-1 advantage in shots in the first period.
The Vikings controlled both possession and territory in the early moments of the second half, and that paid off in the 54th minute. Maris played a high ball that bounced just outside the top of the penalty area. An MSUB defender tried to head the ball back to goalkeeper Aiko Johnson, but Houplin intercepted the short pass and volleyed a shot in from 19 yards.
"I knew she was going to head it back," said Houplin, who scored her fifth goal of the season and also had the game-winner in Western's 3-0 victory over MSUB at Bellingham. "I reacted and tried to get there first and was able to knock it over the keeper."
The Yellowjackets' best chance to equalize came in the 77th minute, when a shot from 14 yards by Alisa Sagdahl forced WWU goalkeeper Jamie Arthurs to make a leaping save to deflect the shot around the post.
WWU got an insurance goal in the 82nd minute. Maris fought off a defender in the penalty area and tapped a short pass to Miles, who finished from the goal mouth. The goal tied Miles for the team lead at eight with Maris, whose assist was her fifth of the season.