(Editor’s Note: Story by Griz Communications)
MISSOULA – Montana’s exhilarating postseason run, which started last week in Ogden, Utah, with three shutout wins, came to an end on Friday night against Washington State in Pullman in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship.
Leading 1-0 at the half, the Cougars (13-5-1) erupted for four more in the second half and went on to post a 5-1 victory over the Grizzlies (7-9-6) at Lower Soccer Field on a 30-degree evening.
Washington State will face either Georgetown or Central Connecticut State in the next round.
“Congratulations to Washington State. They were outstanding in the second half,” said first-year Griz coach Chris Citowicki. “They’ve got a very talented group, and how they performed was absolutely amazing. They caused us a lot of issues.”
Kennedy Yost kept Montana from getting shut out when she scored the match’s final goal in the 85th minute.
It was just the third goal in program history scored in an NCAA tournament match, joining Heidi Melville’s in 1999 against Texas A&M and Shannon Forslund’s in 2000 against Washington State in what remains Montana’s lone tournament victory.
Washington State dominated possession in the first half and outshot Montana 22-3 over the opening 45 minutes.
Only five of those shots were put on goal, with Griz defenders blocking many before they could reach goalkeeper Claire Howard, but most balls that were cleared back to the midfield were possessed by the Cougars and sent right back in. The pressure was unrelenting.
“We kept turning the ball over in the midfield. They are a team that plays for the second ball in the midfield, and when they get it, they attack you with speed,” said Citowicki.
“(Against all three opponents at the Big Sky tournament) we dominated the ball in the middle, but this is a completely different kind of program. They made life difficult for us.”
Howard kept her team in a scoreless deadlock until the 36th minute, when Hailey Smith drove the right end line and sent a pass across the face of the goal that Brianna Alger tapped in to make it 1-0.
It was a one-goal game at the half.
Morgan Weaver’s 13th goal of the season, coming in the 49th minute, made it 2-0. It was the goal in the 61st that made it 3-0 and opened the floodgates. No. 4 came a little more than two minutes later.
“The second goal was fair. The third one we checked out mentally and from that point it was a lot of confidence on their end,” said Citowicki.
Washington State went up 5-0 in the 83rd minute. Less than three minutes later Yost got Montana on the board, when she pressured a defender into turning it over. She picked up the loose ball in front and beat WSU backup goalkeeper Emma Dahline.
It was the only goal scored on Friday against the top five teams from the Pac-12, all of which were in action.
USC, UCLA, Arizona, Stanford and Washington State knocked off the champions of the Big West, Mountain West, Summit, Western Athletic and Big Sky conferences on Friday by a combined score of 22-1.
“It was exciting,” said Yost of her goal. “We’re just a team that doesn’t give up. No matter what we’ll give it our all the whole time.”
And then the clock struck 0:00, which signaled the end of the season for the Grizzlies and the close of the careers of Janessa Fowler, Taryn Miller, Ellie Otteson and McKenzie Warren, the team’s seniors.
But it won’t be Friday’s result that will be their legacy, and last week’s march to a Big Sky Conference championship is only part of their impact on the program.
“Six weeks ago we were 1-6-4. Who thought we were going to win the Big Sky? Who thought we were going to make the NCAA tournament?” said Citowicki.
“Our goal this year has been to change the culture in the program and begin a new foundation that we can build off of, and these seniors have helped us do that.”