(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – In her final match at Yellowjacket Field, Haylee Gunter scored both goals in the Montana State University Billings women’s soccer team’s 2-1 win over Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Saint Martin’s University on Senior Day Saturday.
Gunter scored just three minutes into the match, before delivering the game-winner in the 66th minute to help the Yellowjackets keep their postseason hopes alive. “Everyone just worked so hard today, they were giving me perfect balls, and I was able to finish a couple of them,” Gunter said. “I’m just really proud of everyone today.”
Gunter’s finishes lifted the Yellowjackets’ record to 7-7-3 overall, and the team improved to 4-6-2 in conference play while upping its point total to 14. At the end of GNAC play on Saturday, the Yellowjackets sat in a tie for fifth place in the league standings with Western Oregon, and just two points behind Simon Fraser for the fourth and final playoff spot. “We are finally getting a rhythm going, and we are on two wins now which feels really good,” said Gunter. “We are playing every game like it’s a playoff game, and we are just enjoying every second of it.”
MSUB’s postseason fate will come down to next week’s road matches, with the Yellowjackets playing at Northwest Nazarene next Thursday and at Central Washington next Saturday. MSUB will look for a path to catch Simon Fraser – which plays at Saint Martin’s and home against Western Oregon – and stay level with Western Oregon. The Yellowjackets own the tiebreaker over both SFU and the Wolves.
Saint Martin’s fell to 3-13 on the season with the loss and is now 2-10 in conference play. Jordyn Jolley scored her first goal of the year in the 87th minute, as the visitors avoided being shut out.
Saturday’s match started with a Senior Day ceremony that honored all six of MSUB’s graduating seniors. Rachel Lythgoe, Josie Corbin, and Ashley Tiffin – all of whom are medically unable to compete this season – were given the start before being removed immediately after the opening whistle. “Not all of it has been how I wanted it to go, but it has been some of the best times of my life,” said Lythgoe, who broke into the program as a freshman in the fall of 2016. “The sport has given me so much. I have grown so much as a person, a leader, a teammate, and a friend. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”
Lythgoe earned the 21st and final appearance of her career, and played in a game for the first time since Oct. 28, 2017 due to recurring injuries. “It has definitely been a long journey, but it is the people that have kept me here and I have had so many great teammates,” said Lythgoe. “It meant a lot to be able to put the jersey on one last time and be out there with my team.”
Corbin, who was dealt a season-ending injury last year, played in her 40th match and made the eighth and final start of her career. “It was just great to be out there with my best friends for four years,” Corbin said. “It has been tough this year, but I wouldn’t want to go out with any better team. It has been really awesome, and I have learned a lot more than just about soccer. It is going to carry with me throughout life. I’m excited to move on from this stage, but also to look back on all the fun times I had and all that I learned.”
Tiffin transferred to the Yellowjacket program in the fall of 2020, and played in eight matches last spring before medically retiring from the sport leading into the fall season. “It was pretty emotional, just getting to walk out with my parents was really overwhelming,” said Tiffin. “It has been a tough season, but I’m just so happy that I have been here and have been able to support everyone. It was great to just be on the field one last time.”
“It is beyond deserved,” Cavallo commented on the ceremonious start at the opening whistle. “I’m really proud of them. They have shown up every single day this season knowing they couldn’t enjoy soccer like their teammates have. I’m proud of the resilience they have maintained and how they have continued to be part of the team. Having them start was a special moment, and is one I’ll remember forever.”
Hometown senior Lexie Bloyder contributed 86 minutes in her final match in the Magic City, while Ally Findlay played 86 minutes alongside her on the back line on Saturday. “It’s great to win and to have all the fans here supporting us, and it was great with all of the seniors being able to start,” said Bloyder. “That was really special, and probably the thing I will remember the most. Coming into this program what I wanted to get out of it was just to grow as a person, and that’s what I have gotten. I’m just very thankful.”
“It was so awesome to win both games this week,” Findlay said, referring to Thursday’s 2-1 triumph over Western Oregon. “It’s really exciting that we still have a chance at the playoffs, and we are just going to keep coming out and having great weeks. We had great practices this week, so we are just going to look to do the same thing to get ready for next weekend.”
Minutes after the emotional exit by Lythgoe, Corbin, and Tiffin, Gunter put her team ahead with her second goal of the weekend. Sprinting past her defender on a through ball from Jordan Roe, Gunter tucked a right-footed shot into the lower-left corner of the net past a charging Ali Campigotto out of the SMU goal.
Gunter’s goal originated in the midfield, when Taylor Gertsch picked off a pass, shielded the ball, and fed it forward to Roe. It was one of the many standout moments from the second-year freshman, who turned in one of her most masterful performances of the season in 89 minutes at the center of the pitch. She also finished with three shots, including two on target.
The Saints garnered some momentum during the latter part of the opening half, and managed to land six shot attempts during the opening 45 minutes of play. Gunter nearly doubled her tally before halftime, with a shot attempt smothered by Campigotto before the rebound glanced off the left goal post.
The senior’s brace came in the 66th minute, on a play that started with strength on the ball from Jillian Hust. The second-year freshman stuck with a ball that bounced off her defender, before feeding it forward to Sydney Torres inside the box on the right side of the field. A stellar cross zipped through the six-yard box, and Gunter was there to redirect a left-footed shot into the lower-right corner of the goal.
“I’m really very happy for Haylee,” Cavallo said. “She put a lot of pressure on herself trying to come back from injury at the start of the season, and to save a three-goal week to the end of the season is great.”
Jolley’s finish came on a late corner kick inside a crowded goal box, but the Yellowjackets responded calmly to ensure the victory over the final four minutes of play. MSUB held a 14-12 edge in shots in the match, but the Saints won three corner kicks while allowing none.
Tuva Sallvin made three saves in goal to earn the victory, while Hailee Gertsch turned in 89 strong minutes at center back after relieving Tiffin at the outset of the match. Sydney Wate continued her string of steady play with a 90-minute effort at outside back, and Leila Clark had two on-target shots in 58 minutes coming off the bench.
The regular season comes to its pinnacle moment next week, as the Yellowjackets have a final shot to elbow their way into the GNAC Championships. Live coverage for next week’s road matches can be found online here [msubsports.com].