The Western Washington University women’s soccer team gave two-time defending NCAA Division II national champion Grand Valley State all it could handle, but early goals in the first and second half proved to be too much to overcome in a 3-2 defeat Thursday, Dec. 3, in the national semifinal.
The Vikings (21-2-1) finish their season with a program-best 21 victories and advanced to the second Final Four for the second time in the last three years. Thursday’s loss snapped a 20-match unbeaten streak. Grand Valley State (22-1-1) will go for its third consecutive NCAA II National Championship on Saturday vs. Columbus State. This is the seventh consecutive Final Four appearance for the Lakers.
“It was two heavyweights going head to head on the national stage. We just couldn’t overcome those early goals in each half,” WWU coach Travis Connell said in a news release. “Anytime you give up early goals it makes it a lot harder. The game was pretty even, just the timing of the goals really took a lot out of us. We battled back twice and really showed our character. There is a tremendous amount of fight and heart in this team, and they showed that today, it just was not meant to be.”
The Vikings were forced to dig out of an early hole as the Lakers scored a pair of goals in the first nine minutes of the game. Jayma Martin put home the first goal at the 6:12 mark off an assist from Gabriella Mencotti. Less than two minutes later Kendra Stauffer put GVSU up 2-0 with a follow off a deflected save by senior goalkeeper Ashley Haden.
Western tightened things up with a late-first half goal when senior defender Delanee Nilles headed a ball into the net off corner kick by junior midfielder Becca Cates at the 41:06 mark.
Despite carrying some momentum into halftime, the Vikings relinquished a quick second-half goal to put the Lakers back up by a pair of scores. Martin scored her second goal of the game as she weaved through the WWU defense and took a shot off a cross from Stauffer just 30 seconds into the second half. It was just the sixth second-half goal the Vikings allowed all season. For GVSU it was its NCAA II leading 102nd goal of the season.
The Vikings had an opportunity to bring the game back to a one-score deficit in the 56th minute, but a rebound off a corner by freshman Gabriela Pelogi was smothered by GVSU goalkeeper Emily Maresh.
Western climbed right back into the game with a goal at 74:40 off another shot by Pelogi from the left flank that snuck past the GVSU goalie to pull Western to within one score at 3-2.
WWU had a late chance to tie the game in the 83rd minute on a header by Nilles off a corner that sailed just wide of the goal.
“I am extremely proud of this group for all that they have accomplished, both on and off the field,” Connell said. “The result may not be how we wanted to finish the season, but every other part of this experience is. Here we are on the national stage, with two of the top teams in the nation battling it out. That is a dream for any competitive soccer player and I am excited that our players got to experience that. I am proud of them showing their character and leaving it all on the field. This is a special group that had a very special season.”
The Vikings and Lakers were dead even in shots on goal (10) and each goalie recorded four saves.