BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Forward Catherine Miles (So., Anacortes) scored in the sixth minute, propelling host Western Washington University to a 2-0 triumph over St. Edward’s University in a quarterfinal round game between two top 10 nationally ranked teams of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship on Sunday, Nov. 24, at Orca Field on the campus of Whatcom CC.
The Vikings, ranked No.9 nationally in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America/NCAA Division II Top 25 and the West Region champions, improved to 20-1-1 overall. Sunday’s triumph made them a perfect 12-0-0 at home this season.
With the victory WWU advances to the Final Four at Evans, Ga., Dec. 5-7. The Vikings face defending national champion West Florida in a national semifinal on Thursday., Dec. 5.
“I’m very happy for our players, they’ve worked so hard to get here and now they get to play on,” said WWU coach Travis Connell (11th year, 141-60-20). “I wish all the girls who have come through the program could experience this, because they’ve all contributed to it in some way.”
St. Edward’s (Austin, Texas), ranked No.10 nationally and the South Central Region champion, suffered its first loss of the season, completing the year 18-1-3. It was the first time all season St. Edward’s had allowed more than one goal. The Hilltoppers had given up just six goals total in their first 21 contests.
Miles’ goal came on a counter attack after a St. Edward’s free kick. The ball was headed away from the WWU penalty area, and Viking right back Brina Sych (Sr., Vancouver/Union) recovered it, immediately cutting inside one Hilltopper, then eluding another on a 65-yard burst down the right side.
Sych eventually played a ball to forward Kristin Maris (Sr., Issaquah) near the top of the penalty area, and Maris found Miles sprinting into the area on the left side. Miles, all alone, calmly finished from 10 yards out for her team-high 15th goal of the season.
“You never get that much time, it was once-in-a-lifetime,” said Miles. “It’s a finish you’ve practiced 1,000 times, you just have to pass it into the net.”
Sych, a second-team all-American last year, was a constant thorn in the St. Edward’s defense, repeatedly making charges down the right side to create opportunities.
“It’s how we play,” said Sych. “If there’s a gap in front of me, then I can go. We have central midfielders who I know will cover for me.”
WWU’s’s second goal was triggered by another outside back less than four minutes before halftime. Left backKatherine Miccile (Jr., Kent/Kentlake) intercepted a pass near the centerline, beat a defender and fed Jessica Bertucci (So., Bellingham/Sehome), who dribbled into the penalty area.
Bertucci’s shot from the left side was intercepted on the goal line by Katie Donahue of St. Edward’s, but under pressure from WWU’s Elise Aylward (Fr., Renton/Lindbergh), the ball was pushed into the net for an own goal.
“If I were scouting us, it would be difficult to figure out how to defend our outside backs,” Connell said. “It gives us an extra dimension.”
WWU had a 13-9 advantage in shots, but the Hilltoppers did create a number of good chances, the best coming in the 55th minute when Rachel Murray got behind the Viking defense and her shot forced WWU goalkeeper Alyssa Beauchamp (Sr., Vancouver/Mountain View) to punch the ball over the crossbar.
“This was the most athletic, physical team we’ve played,” Connell said of St. Edward’s. “It took the effort of our whole team to defend today. Kayla Russ (Sr., Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep) stepped up a number of times.”
The Vikings entered the day already having gone further in the NCAA tournament than ever before. Now, with a school-record 20 wins already under their belt, Georgia isn’t just on their minds, it’s in their travel plans.
“This doesn’t seem like real life,” said Sych. “It hasn’t sunk in that we’re one of the top four teams in the country. As I senior I couldn’t ask for a better way to finish my time at Western.”