Rebels Capture First Mountain West Regular Season Title Since 2007|
Oct. 28, 2016
2016 Mountain West Tournament Bracket
LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com) - Playing on field turf at Nevada, Reno's Mackay Field, UNLV Women's Soccer didn't let the fast conditions or the pressure of what was at stake change its game plan. The Rebels were aggressive early and relentless in their attack as senior sensation Lily Sender registered a hat trick and junior Chidera Akubuilo added a fourth insurance goal in the 4-2 victory over the Wolf Pack on Friday night.
The victory secured UNLV's first regular season Mountain West Championship since 2007 and the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament in San Diego. It also gave the Rebels their first points of the year in the Governor's Series, the all-sports competition between the two schools sponsored by NV Energy and Barrick Gold.
UNLV improved to 15-3-2 on the year and 8-1-2 in conference play, with both win totals being the most in program history. They also finished the regular season a perfect 5-0 on the road in league play, which also sets a new record for the program.
Sender's first goal came in 13th minute after defender Paige Almendariz sent a ball up the left sideline. The forward was able to run up on it and tap it past the Wolf Pack's charging goalie, then power the kick into the opposite corner, with the ball hitting the crossbar and bouncing in. Under 10 minutes later, senior Susie Bernal collected her ninth assist when she flipped a nifty pass forward to Sender, who took the ball away from one Wolf Pack defender, beat another and slotted the ball into the bottom right corner past the goalie. With the assist, Bernal has tied fellow senior Jordan Magnin's single-season assists record that Magnin set just last season.
Sender was back at it again shortly after halftime. This time it was Magnin controlling the ball in the midfield and finding junior midfielder Sophie Cortes out wide, who fed a perfect one-touch pass to the streaking Sender into the box, who also one-touched it past Nevada, Reno's keeper for her third goal of the night. The Honolulu, Hawaii, native registered UNLV's first hat trick since 2010 and fifth overall, becoming just the fourth Rebel in program history to accomplish the feat. With 14 goals and 35 points in her final year, the senior has now tied the single-season record for goals and set a new program mark for most individual points in a season.
UNLV wasn't quite done yet, however, as four minutes later junior Chidera Akubuilo added an insurance goal in the 56th minute. Freshman Georgia Kingman lined up for the corner and Akubuilo took her usual place in the box. Kingman sent a beautiful cross into the net, finding Akubuilo's head. The Wolf Pack goalie was able to knock it out, but was unable to pick it up and it rebounded right to Akubuilo, who left no doubt and buried it into the back of the net. It was the defender's second goal of the season.
Nevada, Reno added goals in the 74th and 89th minutes, but it was too little too late as the final whistle sounded and the Rebels were well on their way to celebrating.
Head coach Chris Shaw was impressed with his team on a night where the conditions and the pressure could have gotten to them. "Reno is a hard place to play with the turf and especially with the weather today," said Shaw. "Throughout the year this team has recognized when they need to step up and they've always managed to do it. I'm super proud of them and couldn't ask for anything better."
Shaw also notes that while the Rebels may have been picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, the players and coaches knew they had the potential to be special this year. "After getting picked where we were in the preseason, this may have been a surprise to some," said Shaw. "But to us -- the players and the coaches -- we knew we had the talent and the belief to get it done. We are playing our best soccer right now, peaking at the right time and we are healthy, so we're really excited and looking forward to next week."
UNLV will have the No. 1 seed and a first round bye at next week's Mountain West Conference tournament in San Diego. Semifinal matches are set for Thursday, Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., with the Rebels appearing in the 4 p.m. match against the lowest seed that advances past Tuesday's quarterfinal games.
The Rebels' win over the Wolf Pack also earns UNLV three points towards its total score in this year's Governor's Series, with the Rebels taking the full points for the women's soccer installment since the teams won't meet again this season. The annual all-sports competition, sponsored by NV Energy and Barrick Gold, was established in 2012 by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. UNLV has taken the title over Nevada, Reno every year since its inception.