Junior Liv Larson assisted on WWU’s goal in a 1-0 NCAA Tournament victory over Sonoma State on Thursday. PHOTO: WWU Athletics
Vikings Open NCAA Play with 1-0 Victory Over Sonoma State
November 8, 2018
PORTLAND, Ore. – Win and advance. That’s the mindset of the nationally-ranked and No. 3 West Region seed Western Washington University women’s soccer team.
The Vikings did just that Thursday, opening play in the first round of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship with a dominating defensive effort in a 1-0 victory over Sonoma State at Tuominen Yard on the campus of Concordia University.
WWU senior forward Gabriela Pelogi returned to the starting lineup to score the game-winning goal in the 16th minute and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Natalie Dierickx tied a career-high with 9 saves to lead a strong defensive effort that advances the Vikings to Saturday’s second round match-up against the winner of the Seattle Pacific/Concordia game that follows.
WWU improved to 17-3-1 overall with its eighth win over the last nine games. Making its seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship, the 2016 national champions have now won at least one NCAA tournament game in seven of nine trips to the tournament.
"It is certainly an honor to win any of these games in the NCAA Tournament. We have to give a lot of credit to Sonoma State...they are a well-coached team, they played hard, they had great tactics and a lot of character throughout the match,” said WWU head coach Travis Connell following the match. “It is an honor to play against a team like that and they certainly pushed us to the limit and were dangerous throughout the match. We are just really happy with the result and that we did enough on the day to advance."
No. 6-seed Sonoma State had its season come to an end with a loss to WWU for the second straight season, ending the 2018 season with an 11-5-4 record.
The Vikings struck first when Pelogi (Federal Way, WA) connected on a header in the 16th minute, giving the Vikings the early 1-0 lead. Junior defender Peyton Chick (Renton, WA/Kentridge) took throw-in deep on the Vikings side of the field where junior forward Liv Larson (Arlington, WA) controlled the ball 30 yards out on the left flank. WWU’s leader in assists fired a service into the box, where Pelogi cut across the 6-yard box and in front of the goalkeeper to head the ball home into the left side of the net from 4-yards out for her team-leading eighth goal of the season.
"It was off a throw-in," said Pelogi while recounting the goal. "I saw that Liv (Larson) made a nice cross so I went all-in and got the goal thanks to her and my team. It just feels really good to be back helping the team out."
The goal was the 44th of Pelogi’s career, moving her into a tie for 5th place in Great Northwest Athletic Conference history. The three-time First Team All-GNAC selection missed the previous five games for the Vikings with an injury, and payed instant dividends with her fifth game-winning goal of the season and 20th of her career to pull her to within one of the all-time GNAC record.
The back-and-forth affair was evenly matched, with Sonoma State edging Western 16-15 in shots and held a 9-6 advantage in shots on goal.
WWU’s defense stiffened in the second half to keep the Seawolves off the board, with Dierickx making 5 of her season-high-tying 9 saves over the final 45 minutes. The shutout performance was the 11th of the season by the Vikings and seventh clean sheet by Dierickx.
"Natalie was fantastic. We honored her with an award after the game in the locker room,” said Connell. “Goalkeepers go unnoticed so often, which is just kind of the way it is for that position, but it was certainly well-deserved to award her after the match. She made some amazing saves to keep us in the match. We certainly could not have gotten the result without her performance today."