Rebels Clinch Conference Tournament Title, NCAA Tournament Berth|
Nov. 6, 2016
SAN DIEGO (UNLVRebels.com) - A wild finish at SDSU Sports Deck on Saturday night ended with UNLV Women's Soccer clinching the program's first Mountain West Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth since 2006. In a game the Rebels led 2-0 and 3-2 as late as the 89th minute, it took a penalty kick shootout win to finally seal the deal after top-seeded UNLV and third-seeded San Diego State played 110 minutes to a 3-3 tie. The Rebels saw goals from junior Sophie Cortes and seniors Susie Bernal and Jordan Magnin, but the Aztecs had three second-half goals of their own to even the score and send it to extra time. After neither team scored during the 20 minutes of overtime, the game went to a penalty kick shootout to determine the title winner and the recipient of the Mountain West's automatic NCAA berth.
With the double overtime tie, UNLV (16-3-3, 8-1-2) extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games -- the second-longest unbeaten stretch in the country this year. The Rebels also went unbeaten on neutral site contests this season and finished 5-0 on the road during conference play, a program record.
The Rebels struck first in the 25th minute after Bernal pushed it up the right sideline into the corner, changed directions with her signature cut back move and laid it off to Magnin. Magnin sent a perfect cross into the box and the shortest player on the field - Sophie Cortes - out-jumped the Aztec defense to head the ball into the right side of the net to put UNLV up 1-0. The assist was Bernal's 10th of the season, breaking Magnin's previous single-season mark of nine that was set just last year, and was the 22nd of her career - the most all-time in program history. Meanwhile, Magnin picked up her seventh of the season to move in a tie for second for all-time career assists, matching Katie Carney's mark of 19 from 2004-07.
UNLV's second goal came right after halftime, when a SDSU defender misplayed the ball and the lightning-quick Bernal touched the ball forward and outran the Aztec defender. Despite another SDSU defender catching up, Bernal was able to get her foot on the ball and push it past Aztec keeper Gabby English to make it 2-0. Just when it looked like the Rebels were on their way to cruising to a win, the game got a little wacky. On the ensuing kickoff, SDSU pushed it all the way into the UNLV box, but when trying to clear, the UNLV defense was called for a foul, giving the Aztecs a penalty kick just 20 seconds after the Rebels took the 2-0 lead. Ten minutes later, the Rebels were called for another foul, this time 30 yards out in front of the goal. SDSU's Victoria Barba, who nailed the penalty kick to cut the UNLV lead in half, lined up for the free kick and sent a bullet into the left side of the net to even the score at 2-2.
The two teams went the next 25-plus minutes scoreless until Magnin found the net in the 85th minute. Fellow senior Lily Sender started the sequence by a nifty turn with the ball and pass forward to Magnin, who took one touch to her left and then wound up and sent the ball into the opposite corner of the goal. With just five minutes to go, it looked as if Magnin's score would be the game-winner, but SDSU's frantic attempt to extend the game led to another foul in the box. This one, with just over a minute and a half to play, gave the Aztecs a penalty kick and it was Barba again scoring the goal -- her third of the game.
Both squads had their chances in the two 10-minute overtime periods, but neither could connect on a golden goal game-winner. With a title-winner needing to be determined, the game would be decided on a penalty kick shootout. The Rebels won the toss and elected to shoot first. Senior Kendall Sandoval was up first and she calmly sent the ball into the bottom right corner. The Aztecs matched and it was Magnin's turn. Her movement got English to dive the wrong way, but her shot was a little wide and it bounced off the left goalpost. After SDSU made their next one to go up 2-1, Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Chidera Akubuilo stepped up and didn't leave a doubt, evening the score at 2-2. Next up for the Aztecs was Barba, who had already made two penalty kicks on the night. UNLV keeper Jordan Sallee was ready for her this time. Knowing Barba's tendency to go for the bottom right corner, Sallee jumped that way hoping that she'd stick to that tendency and that she did as Sallee was able to slide to her left and knock the ball away. Senior Hayley Wilson's confident shot put the Rebels back up 3-2 until SDSU evened it again a 3-3 on the next kick. Freshman Georgia Kingman was the next Rebel to shoot, and she calmly nailed the kick like a senior who has four years of experience under her belt. With the 4-3 lead, a miss or save on the next SDSU kick would end it for good, and that's exactly how it played out as SDSU's Darcy Weisner sent her kick wide left of the goal and that was it.
On the night, UNLV edged out SDSU in shots 16-13, including 8-2 in the first half, while Sallee was again strong in the net with three saves and multiple great grabs out of the air.
Senior Dakota Blazak, who scored the first goal for the Scarlet and Gray in Thursday's semifinal match, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while Blazak joined Magnin, Cortes and sophomore Isabella Myers on the All-Tournament team.
The Rebels will be making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and the first since 2006 -- the same year they last won the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The 64-team bracket will be announced on Monday at 1:30 p.m. during the NCAA Women's Soccer Selection Show. First round games will take place Nov. 11-13, followed by second and third round games Nov. 18 & 20, respectively. Quarterfinals are set for Nov. 25 or 26 and the Women's College Cup featuring the final four teams will take place December 2 & 4. Host sites and game days and times will be announced during the selection show on Monday.