FRESNO, Calif. — A second-half goal by sophomore midfielder Kendra Pemberton led the top-seeded Utah State women's soccer team to its second appearance in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship match with a 1-0 victory over fifth-seeded Idaho in Fresno on Friday.
The Aggies will battle the winner of the match between host and second-seeded Fresno State and sixth-seeded New Mexico State. That match is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. This is USU's second appearance in the WAC Tournament title match, as the Aggies fell to Fresno State in the 2008 WAC Tournament 2-1 in double overtime in Reno, Nev.
This was the first time that the Aggies and the Vandals have ever met in the WAC Tournament. Overall USU is now 13-1-0 against Idaho and has defeated the Vandals twice this season.
With the win, Utah State improves to 14-4-2 overall this season, which breaks the record for wins in a season by a USU squad. The 2008 team was 13-8-1 and was also WAC regular-season champions.
"We transitioned really well during that goal. Flanary made a couple good dribbles and ate up some space, and we had four players that worked really hard to get forward. Flanary played a beautiful ball to get central and Kendra (Pemberton) just put it away. We worked hard to get forward and make that play happen," USU head coach Heather Cairns said.
Utah State had several chances in the first half against Idaho. Senior forward Shantel Flanary, the WAC Offensive Player of the Year, wasted no time trying to put USU on the board with a dangerous shot in the seventh minute that was saved by Idaho goalkeeper Caroline Towles. In the 31st minute, Pemberton took a long shot that was corralled by Towles.
The Aggies would end the half being out-shot by the Vandals 5-3, despite having more shots on goal, leading in that category 3-2. Towles made three saves in the first 45 minutes, while USU goalkeeper senior Molli Merrill collected two first-half saves.
After several second-half chances, the Aggies finally broke through in the 74th minute. Flanary used a fast break to dribble the ball downfield going one-on-one with a Vandal defender. The senior gave up the ball to Pemberton who was able to sneak the ball past Towles to put Utah State up 1-0. The goal was the sixth for Pemberton this season.
The assist for Flanary also made Utah State history. The assist was her 16th of the season, setting a new record for career assists at USU, passing Lindsey Smart (2006-09) who had 15 during her Aggie career. She also tied Lauren Hansen (2007-10) for career points with 84. This season, she has 10 goals and five assist for 25 points.
The one goal would be all that the Merrill and the tough Aggie defense would need. Merrill, a first-team all-WAC honoree, ended the match with four saves en route to her 10th shutout of the season, which ties a USU record. Megan Mills recorded 10 shutouts in 2003. The shutout was the fifth straight for the senior goalkeeper. She has not allowed a goal since the Aggies fell 2-1 at Hawaii on Sept. 30.
"We are going to stay here and figure out who our next opponent is going to be. Tomorrow we are going to screw our heads on and start preparing for out next opponent, but tonight we are going to enjoy it. This is only the second time that we have made the finals," Cairns said.
Utah State will now await its opponent for its second WAC Tournament final. After a day off, the Aggies will take on either the Aggies of New Mexico State or Fresno State at 2 p.m.
Soccer fans can watch the WAC Tournament through wacsports.com. The cost of the WAC Soccer Tournament All-Access Pass is $10.95.
GOALS BY PERIOD 1st 2nd Total
Idaho 0 0 0
Utah State 0 0 0
SHOTS BY PERIOD 1st 2nd Total
Idaho 5 5 10
Utah State 3 4 7
SAVES BY PERIOD 1st 2nd Total
Idaho 3 1 4
Utah State 2 2 4
CORNERS BY PERIOD 1st 2nd Total
Idaho 1 0 1
Utah State 2 2 4
FOULS BY PERIOD 1st 2nd Total
Idaho 1 7 8
Utah State 4 5 9
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University.