BELLINGHAM - One goal was all that kept the Western Washington University women's soccer team out of the NCAA Division II's Elite Eight a year ago.
One goal was all they needed on Friday, Nov. 22, to claim the program's first West Regional title and move on to the national quarterfinals.
Senior Anna Geldenhuys' rebound goal proved to be the difference, as the Vikings beat Cal State San Bernardino 1-0 in a frosty West Regional final at Whatcom Community College's Orca Field.
"We're really excited about it," Geldenhuys said. "Last year we got to the Sweet 16, and this year we really wanted to get further. We had more experience than last year, so we knew we could do it."
The ninth-ranked Vikings (19-1-1) move on to face St. Edward's (Texas), which beat Metro State in a shootout for the South Central Regional title earlier Friday evening in a game that was tied 1-1 after regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods. The quarterfinal will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at Orca Field, a surface Western improved to 11-0-0 on with Friday's win.
Though Western was certainly the aggressor early, Cal State managed to put some pressure on the WWU end of the field through the latter third of the first half.
The Vikings held a 3-2 shots on goal advantage, but each team had attempted five goals.
But Western coach Travis Connell saw a potential opening during the first 45 minutes that he was able to share with his team once they retreated into the warmer confines of the locker room.
"During halftime, Travis was talking about how their keeper wasn't making any clean holds, so to follow every shot," Geldenhuys said.
It didn't take long for the Vikings to follow their coach's direction.
Just 80 seconds into the second half, Jessica Bertucci found herself with an open shot attempt from about 15 yards out on the left side of the net. Coyotes goal keeper Chelsey Jones came about 10 yards off the line to make stop but couldn't contain the rebound, which dribbled out to Geldenhuys near the top of the box.
Jones scrambled to her feet and deflected Geldenhuys' low laser, but couldn't stop it, and the shot trickled through a pair of CSSB defenders standing on the goal line.
"Jess took a shot from out wide," Geldenhuys said. "The keeper batted it out, and it came right to me. I hit it as hard as I could."
The score was Geldenhuys' fourth of the season, while Bertucci, a Sehome graduate, picked up her third assist of the year.
That one goal proved to be all the Vikings would need.
Of course it's a whole lot easier to make that narrow margin stand when you don't even allow your opponent a chance to even things up.
The Coyotes did not get off a single shot on goal, and only had enough space once to even attempt a shot, as the Vikings defense was simply smothering.
"Playing with the lead is something we've been talking about a lot," Connell said. "That's the most effectively we've done it this season. We kept attacking, we didn't back down. We kept pushing forward, and that kept (CSUSB) pinned in."
Western goal keeper Alyssa Beauchamp needed to make only first-half two saves to pick up her second straight shutout in the NCAA postseason, her fifth of the season and the team's ninth.
"I think winning all the 50-50 balls (made a difference)," Geldenhuys said. "I think our team had a little more heart and really got into every tackle."
Now Western will look to try to carry that into its game against unbeaten and 10th-ranked St. Edward's (19-0-2).
Sunday's game will mark the first meeting between the two schools.
"It will be two good teams, with great athletes," Connell said. "We're happy to be there, but we also plan on winning the game."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.