In a match that had a little bit of everything, junior midfielder Jennifer Flynn's goal with 1:09 left in regulation propelled top-seeded Utah State soccer over fifth-seeded Seattle, 2-1, and onto the WAC Tournament finals Friday.
This is the Aggies' third WAC Tournament final in the last five years. USU is 1-1 in finals with a win against Fresno State in Fresno, Calif., last season and an overtime loss to the same Bulldogs in Reno, Nev., in 2008. The Aggies will face second-seeded Denver on Sunday, Nov. 4, in a match that begins at 1 p.m. The Pioneers stopped third-seeded Texas State, 2-0, in Friday's other semifinal. During the regular season, Utah State and Denver played to a 0-0 draw in Denver.
The Aggies have now won seven-straight matches and have an unbeaten streak of 10 matches.
"It's the tournament, so every game is going to be tight, and we didn't expect anything less. Our game in the regular season versus Seattle was tight; it went into overtime, and we really expected it. We didn't expect, necessarily, two PK's with that and only one goal in the run of play. There when those goals started, it was interesting because both back lines were dropped off so much, that it was like those midfielders had 60-70 yards on both teams. You just felt like something was coming, some goal was coming because both teams were a bit gassed. Then the flurry of goals and we just bounced back from giving up the PK and really just kept fighting. A great individual effort by Jennifer Flynn. Just a great way to end it," USU head coach Heather Cairns said.
Neither team had many chances to get anything going in the first half. The Aggies played part of the half without junior forward Mari Miyashiro, a first-team all-Western Athletic Conference selection who was injured but would return in the second half.
USU would go on to out-shoot Seattle 9-4 in the first half despite have five corner kicks to one by the Redhawks.
In a very physical match, five of the first six plays in the second half were fouls. Miyashiro returned with a vengeance with an early shot that sailed high.
The Aggies took the lead in the 65th minute when a Redhawk brought down Flynn in the box. Senior defender and WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Natalie Norris took the penalty kick for the Aggies and buried it in the back of the net for her team-leading third of the season.
"Today we came into the game just excited to play, just excited to be here. Knowing that we had to give everything we had in order to make it past this game. Seattle is an amazing team. They did not deserve be ranked fifth in this conference, they are much better than their record. That was a really, really hard fought game. So, to be able to come out with a victory over them was huge for us and huge for our confidence. They played an amazing game, I will give that to them any day. Being able to advance to the conference tournament final again was a dream of all of ours, so I am glad we were able to achieve that today," Norris said.
Utah State wasn't able to get another goal before Seattle evened the score at 1-1 in the 83rd minute. Junior defender Jessica Hoskin committed a foul in the box that gave the Redhawks a penalty kick of their own. Julia Besagno connected on the penalty kick, just slipping the ball past senior goalkeeper Ashlyn Mulford.
As time ticked off the clock, both teams got more aggressive trying to find that allusive game-winning goal. At the 88:51 mark of the match and overtime on everyone's mind, Flynn took a fantastic pass from Miyashiro and drilled a 10-yard shot that rattled around and found the back of the net.
"That goal was honestly amazing. There was like a little over a minute left. I was out of the game when they scored that PK and I was like, 'Please coach just put me in, put me in. I want to score.' She did and Mari (Miyashiro) played me the ball, a perfect ball, I shot it, the goalie got her hand on it, but it went in and it was just like the best feeling in the world. We didn't have to play overtime, we are good at that, so yeah it was just good," Flynn said.
GameTracker and live streaming will be available for the championship match.
Tickets for the 2012 WAC Soccer Tournament can be purchased as either an all-session pass or as single-session tickets. A single session ticket allows access to one day's worth of matches. All tickets are for general admission seating.
To purchase WAC Soccer Tournament Tickets contact the Utah State ticket office at 1-888-UState-1 (1-888-878-2831) or go online.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.