Rebels Hold Off Aggies to Advance to Mountain West Title Game|
Nov. 3, 2016
LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com) - The dream season continues for UNLV Women's Soccer as the top-seeded Rebels took down fourth-seeded Utah State 2-1 in the first semifinal at the Mountain West Conference Tournament in San Diego on Thursday. UNLV found the net twice in the first 15 minutes on goals from seniors Dakota Blazak and Lily Sender to build an early 2-0 lead, then held off a late Aggie rally to advance to the program's first conference championship game since 2007.
The bye afforded by the No.1 seed proved to be an advantage early as the Rebels' fresh legs helped them dominate in the first half while Utah State was playing its second game in three days after facing Wyoming in Tuesday's quarterfinals. UNLV held possession consistently at the start of the game and was able to force a corner kick in the fifth minute. The Rebels' designated corner kick specialist Georgia Kingman lined up to take the kick and sent a sky-high ball into the box. A Utah State defender tried to head it out but the ball went backwards and Blazak was in the perfect spot to wind up and one-touch the ball before it hit the ground and fire it past everyone in the box into the left side of the net.
Ten minutes later it was Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year Lily Sender showing why she received the league's top offensive honor this year. After Isabella Myers sent a long kick towards the Aggie back line, a bad clear by the defense saw the ball hanging in the air about 25 yards out from the goal. Sender was able to trap it out of the air, fight off a swarm of Utah State defenders, take one touch to her right and blast a shot into right corner from outside the 18-yard box. The goal was Sender's 15th on the season, breaking the record for most goals in a single season in program history. It also extended her single-season record for points with 37 on the year.
At half time, head coach Chris Shaw knew that the Aggies wouldn't go down without a fight, and he was right. Utah State had a pep in its step in the second half, pushing the tempo and putting considerably more pressure on the Rebel defense than it had in the first half. That pressure led to corner kick in the 64th minute, when USU's Jessica Brooksby sent a kick into the box directly to the head of Lauren Harmon, who put it in a spot UNLV keeper Jordan Sallee couldn't get to, cutting the lead in half. The Aggies frantically attacked over the final 20-plus minutes and had a few dangerous chances, but the defense was able to hold strong and preserve the lead.
On the night, UNLV out-shot Utah State 13-3, including 9-1 in the first half. Sallee collected two more saves to bring her season total to 70 on the year - a career-high.
The Rebels will face the winner of No. 2 San Jose State/No. 3 San Diego State on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the SDSU Sports Deck at 7 p.m. with a chance to secure an NCAA tournament berth.