The Big Sky conference tournament unfolded with several powerhouse teams including Eastern Washington, Portland State, Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona, Idaho State and an undefeated University of Montana. Idaho State proved to be one of the strongest of all by making it to the championship match but ultimately fell short to Northern Arizona in the final on Sunday, Nov. 9.
Northern Arizona rarely made mistakes and capitalized on their one-on-one opportunities with the utmost of confidence for each of their two goals. Northern Arizona won the match 2-1.
Both showed a lot of character with their perseverance.
In soccer goals are sometimes scored off of opportunistic spontaneous chances, and this game was no different.
When an ISU defender made a miscalculated run out of the defensive end, a Northern Arizona midfielder intercepted her on foot and created a counter attack. The Northern Arizona player sent the ball up in one pass to a rushing forward, and she had broken away from the defense and scored one on one with the keeper.
This sort of play is a gift to the offense of a team and mostly unusual.
Just moments after the score became 2-0 in Northern Arizona’s favor, a fire was lit and forward Maria Sanchez found the ball at her feet. She would not be denied.
Sanchez could not be stopped in this moment, as she took on the whole Northern Arizona team and dribbled the ball to the end line wide of the goal.
Once there, it still wasn’t enough for her as she dribbled around one more defender point blank in the red zone, made a pin point cross in to the box in front of goal and Madeline Gochnour capitalized while being surrounded by defenders.
It was a hectic moment with both teams trying their hardest. This moment was no gift, and ISU took the goal on their terms.
ISU had led the game in statistic possession and with far more shots on goal.
The Bengals came into the game confident and sharp as ever with having just defeated the tournament-favorite Montana Grizzlies.
The ISU women controlled possession and out-hustled the Lumberjacks in most instances. There wasn’t a uniform on the starting eleven that was clean of mud and grass. However, Northern Arizona ended up being the ones sharp enough to finish goals when it counted.
ISU had an overwhelming 13 shots on goal, while Northern Arizona had a mere five.
However, Northern Arizona made those five shots count and the credit goes to their unwavering belief and massive individual talent.
ISU may have faced a team with more depth, but they played with superior energy, conviction, strategy and role play.
The Bengals had eight corner kicks to Northern Arizona’s one.
Northern Arizona played defensively almost the entire second half.
On rare occasion they would get a counter attacking run and be snubbed out by the ISU defense.
Vanessa Cabilan played effectively on defense and made several key plays to stop talented Northern Arizona forwards, while also sending many accurate passes up field.
The prior quarterfinal game with Montana was a real thriller and ended in the favor of ISU.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Grizzlies as their home crowd advantage helped them to advance to the quarterfinal. The Grizzlies were undefeated in the regular season.
Montana actually led the quarterfinal game at halftime 1-0. The first goal for the determined Bengals came from none other than Amanda Ellsworth.
Gochnour made a long surging run straight down the middle of the defense, pulled defenders to her and found Ellsworth on a supporting run. Ellsworth then took the ball into the red zone, faked the goalie to the ground, dribbled around her and scored off an acute angle to the side of the goal.
Deep into the second half with the game tied, Alyssa Kenney pushed a ball into the goal area and Katherine Roberts made a diving kick to get there first and send it into the net to give ISU the lead.
Ellsworth would end up not finding the back of the goal in the next game.
The Bengals would not have made it so far, without the high caliber play of keeper Sheridan Hapsic who made several key saves against both Northern Colorado and Montana. Their victory over Montana was a tight game and big upset.
Hapsic’s duties were less in-demand in the final game, as the Bengals continuously pushed up the field and controlled possession against Northern Arizona.
Whitney Peterson made a good number of surging confident runs up the sideline to advance ISU possession into dangerous territory.
The three players from ISU who made the all-tournament team selection were Sanchez, Roberts and Ellsworth.
With a final score of 2-1 the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks won the Big Sky conference tournament in Missoula and will advance to the NCAA tournament.