HILLSBORO, Ore. – Walking off the pitch a month ago after a disheartening two-goal defeat in their biggest match of the year at home, the Wildcats were at a crossroads.
It turned out to be the beginning of something special.
On Saturday evening, the Weber State University women’s soccer team avenged that loss by topping top seed and tournament host Portland State in a thrilling penalty kick shootout to win the 2013 Big Sky Conference Championship at Hillsboro Stadium.
The Wildcats and Vikings battled fiercely for 110 minutes, with neither side breaking through until it came down to kicks. Weber State converted its first three attempts and Portland State couldn’t get one past senior goalkeeper Ryann Waldman as the Wildcats claimed the title.
It’s the third consecutive season the Big Sky title match has been decided on penalties.
“I have lots of experience with penalty kicks and I know and understand the small things that can make a difference from a keeper’s perspective,” said Waldman, who blocked the Vikings final two attempts. “I tried to be as big and intimidating as I could be before they show. All I knew is that if my teammates were going to make their shots, I was going to save Portland State’s shots.”
Waldman was named the Most Valuable Player on the All-Tournament team, which also included sophomore forward Mackenzie Harrison, sophomore central midfielder Chansi Crompton, junior midfielder Mackenzie Day, sophomore forward Stacy Bair and sophomore central defender Brecken Holbrook.
Weber State (10-4-5), which was making its eight appearance in a tournament championship match, claimed its fourth Big Sky title, and will make its third appearance in the NCAA Women’s College Cup next week. The pairings and sites will be announced at 2:30 p.m. on Monday on NCAA.com.
“We played a tremendous last 30 of the first half, but give PSU credit, they came to play in the second half, but so did we,” Weber State coach Tim Crompton said. “It was a battle and the girls stepped up and took their PKs with confidence. I am extremely proud of all of them and fortunate to have a great administration that supports our program so well. We are excited to bring the trophy home.”
Crompton said the biggest difference between Saturday’s result and the home result a month ago came down to one thing.
“We played solid defense and made big plays at the back when we needed to.”
Portland State (12-4-3) outshot Weber State 15-8 through the course of the match, but the attempts on frame were just 6-4 in favor of the Vikings, indicating the tightness of the championship battle.
“The biggest difference between tonight’s game and the previous time we played Portland State is that we didn’t give away goals,” Chansi Crompton said. “Going into the final, all the girls were confident that this game would be different than the last.
“At the beginning of the season, one of our goals was to bring back the championship legacy, but we have some bigger goals in mind as well. This group of girls are capable of accomplishing great things and going into the NCAA tournament, I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.”
The Wildcats didn’t allow a goal in either tournament match, and will carry a three-match shutout streak – and five-match unbeaten streak – into the NCAA tournament. It was Weber State’s eighth shutout of the season and Waldman’s 20th career clean sheet.
“Our defense was solid, not only in the back, but starting from the forwards all the way back,” Holbrook said. “Everyone played to win and we got it done. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. I wouldn’t want to be going into it with anyone else but these girls.”
With play on the field at last exhausted, the Wildcats calmly and confidently stepped to the penalty spot to decide things.
Bair, who scored a goal and tallied an assist in the Weber State’s semifinal win over Northern Arizona on Thursday, buried her attempt to put the Wildcats ahead 1-0, with Portland State’s Tamia Hansen putting her shot over the net.
Next up for WSU was Crompton, who easily converted her attempt, and then Waldman blocked PSU’s Abbey Bergquist to give the Wildcats the 2-0 lead.
Senior defender Bailey Eames took Weber State’s third attempt, which would prove to be the clincher, after Waldman blocked the Vikings’ Cori Bianchini to set off a celebration.
“When we were deciding who was going to take penalty kicks, I initially was really nervous. I said I wasn’t sure if I should, but we’ve been practicing for two weeks now and I knew I should step up,” Eames said. “I’m a senior and tonight was my night to put a stamp on a game and get us a win. That’s all I was thinking about when I jogged out to take it. I tried my best to stay calm and act like it was just practice.”
Weber State is now 10-7-4 in Big Sky Conference tournament matches, and 3-3-2 in the championship match, with four first place finishes and four runner-up finishes.