2005 Season Year In Review - MWC Champs Once Again
Dec. 20, 2005
LAS VEGAS - The UNLV women's soccer team entered the 2005 season as the defending Mountain West champions, but also had a lot of questions facing themselves to begin the year. The Rebels were playing under a new head coach, Katherine Mertz, who took over as UNLV's head coach in April. They also learned they would have to start the year with an untested freshman in goal, Ciera Nero, after two-time all-conference goalie Jenna Huff broke a bone in her foot during preseason practices.
UNLV started out with three wins in its first four games, including an impressive 2-1 win on the road at Arizona State on a free kick in the final minutes from senior defender Nickie Olson. The next weekend saw the Rebels take a trip to the East Coast for the VCU Invitational. UNLV almost pulled out a win over Richmond, but the Spiders tied the game up in the final minute, and forced a overtime tie. That would be the first in a six-game stretch in which the Rebels struggled on offense, scoring just two goals while going 0-3-3.
The Rebels returned home to host the Rebel Classic on Oct. 2, and at the same time welcomed Huff back to the field, as she played the entire second halfs of both games in the Classic. Though Nero was very impressive in goal in the first 10 games of the year (she finished the year with a 0.81 GAA, 55 saves, and two shutouts), there's no denying that the Rebels were inspired with their senior leader back on the field. Beginning with a 3-0 win over Utah Valley State, the Rebels won their next six games, all by shutout which set a new school record and they actually held the longest shutout streak in the nation at that point.
While the Rebel offense came alive during that point, scoring 13 goals over the six-game win streak, the defense was just as impressive, led by the play of Olson. They were key in shutting down the opponents' offensive attack, forcing them to shots from the outside, and not allowing any good looks inside the box, while what few shots they got off were stopped by Huff.
The six-game win streak ended in a 1-0 loss to 12th-ranked BYU at home, and was followed by another home loss, this time to the regular season champion Utah Utes 1-0. Entering the final regular season game needing a win to claim the second seed in the Mountain West Tournament, the Rebels did just that, easily dispatching San Diego State 3-0 to finish at 5-2 in the league.
UNLV opened the 2005 MWC tournament as the second seed, and opened with a 3-0 win over TCU in the quarterfinals. The Rebels then faced SDSU in the semifinals, just five days after their regular season matchup. It was a much different game this time however, as the Aztecs took a 1-0 halftime lead, and were set to put the game away after drawing a penalty kick in the 66th minute. Huff, as she did all year, came up big once again, and made a diving save to stop the PK and keep the Rebels' title hopes alive. Her faith in the offense came through in the 89th minute, when Tanya Roberts scored to tie the game and send it into overtime, and just minutes into overtime, Haley Partridge lofted a long shot from the right side that just fell into the top corner of the goal, sending UNLV into the championship game for the second time in school history.
Facing New Mexico in the title game, it was a defensive matchup as neither team could find the back of the net in the opening 90 minutes. Once again UNLV would go to overtime, and again the Rebels would score a golden goal. This time Katie Carney provided the heroics, taking a pass from Lori Sakai and sending a blast to the back of the net to give UNLV its first-ever MWC Tournament championship, and a NCAA automatic bid. Carney would be named MWC Tournament MVP after scoring two game-winners in the tournament, while joining her on the all-tournament team was Roberts, Partridge, Heather Killock, Olson, and Huff.
UNLV drew 15th-ranked Cal State Fullerton as its opening matchup in the NCAA first round. Playing on the Titans' home field, the Rebels just nearly missed pulling off a huge upset, as Partridge had two one-on-one shots blocked by the Titan goalkeeper. The Rebels kept CSU Fullerton down on offense as well however, and UNLV would play its third straight overtime game. This time however the winning score would go to the other team, as after a scramble for the ball in the box after a block by Huff, the ball ended up spinning on the goalline, and the Rebels would be credited with an own goal in a failed attempt to clear out the ball, giving UNLV a 1-0 overtime loss in the NCAA first round for the second straight season.
Despite the tought loss, UNLV came home with a school-record 13 wins (13-6-3), its first-ever MWC Tournament championship title, a second-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and set new school records in shutouts (11), assists (29), and team GAA (0.59).