Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lady Bulldogs bounce back and feast on Idaho 5-0

Gonzaga controlled the match from the opening whistle Sunday at Luger Field (Photos: Gerald Barnhart)
After an unusually flat performance in a two-goal shutout loss Friday to Montana, the Gonzaga women came out flying from the opening whistle Sunday versus Idaho and used a pair of goals from Karley Baggerly to roll to a 5-0 victory.

Despite carrying some injuries and battling illness issues, the Zags wasted no time in putting the Vandal defense under pressure. As the clock hit two minutes a ball from midfield was played by Cassie Geerdts out left to Mikayla Anderson (Spokane, WA), who continued to drive froward at the edge of the area with a defender on her before cutting back and turning to send a well-driven shot off the left post from the corner of the six.

Five minutes later a Tori Lee free kick at the right edge of the box was driven to the far post where Baggerly was crashing in. She was unable to get a clean touch on the ball, sending it wide but giving the visitors fair warning of the danger she would be the rest of the way.

The woodwork again denied the Zags the opening goal in the 14th minute on another great play from Anderson, who collected the ball slightly right of midfield 50 yards out and proceeded to drive inside and into the area where she would finally be challenged by the defense. The ball would be poked away, but  directly back to the top of the penalty arc where Lee stepped up and smacked a 19-yard effort off the crossbar.

It was the last warning for Idaho.

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In the 21st minute a long ball from defender Sarah Carter up top was errantly headed backward by a Vandal at midfield, putting Baggerly moving toward goal with a Vandal defender on her shoulder. The sophomore collected the bouncing ball about 25 yards out from goal, and the two jockeyed for the ball as goalkeeper Kimberly Gerken approached. The netminder, however, chose to come in standing up instead of dropping down to grab the ball, allowing Baggerly to shift her left and knock the loose ball past Gerken into the open net from about 15 yards.

"We gotta keep getting mentally tougher on that because we get chances early and sometimes we get down that those didn't go in, and I think you saw that Friday," said Gonzaga coach Amy Edwards about the teams quality early chances. "But the difference was today we were able to keep persevering and grow from that experience on Friday."

The Zags continued to maintain the majority of possession in the offensive end of the pitch during the first half with a 10-0 advantage in shots in a far more dynamic outing than versus Idaho's Big Sky compatriot Montana on Friday.

"I think, obviously, we would love to have Friday's game back, but I think it was a great learning opportunity for us. It was good for us to kind of get Saturday; take some time and reset. It felt like we did, and I thought you kind of saw that today with our pressing. That was the biggest thing - we were a much better pressing team today, and that's our foundation of what we do.

"We tried to really figure out what was going on with some of the numbers we have with some of our sports science stuff trying to figure out did we overtrain them during the week or what was going on and didn't really see that in some of the numbers, and I don't think we saw that today," Edwards added about how much more lively the Zags looked Sunday. "Don't know if we just had a bit of a mental fatigue going on on Friday; and probably, maybe not as prepared mentally. Again, another really good growth opportunity for us because today showed that physically that wasn't an issue."

In the second half, it took only 12 minutes for Baggerly to double the lead. Again, a ball out of the midfield from Geerdts deflected off a Vandal head, putting her in a position where she only had one defender and the keeper to contend with in the box. The Canby, Ore. native won the physical shoulder battle with the defender and put it past the diving Gerken for her second.

It was Baggerly's second brace of the season, having also put two past Fresno State a week ago in a 3-0 win.

"She was last week dealing with a bit of a hip issue so we didn't even think we were gonna use her (against) Montana - we didn't want to - so she played a little bit against Montana and really wasn't herself," Edwards said of her performance. "You saw her a little bit more herself today; and her sister plays on Idaho so she had a little bit more motivation I think to make sure she felt better. Karley's tough. What you saw in those situations is they didn't clear the ball, and Karley is just too strong. She's gonna get on the end of that ball if you don't clear it and she was composed and finished those."

From there, the Bulldogs used their commanding performance as a much-needed opportunity to rest fatigued and injured players while testing their depth. Little changed.

"Saw some nice stuff out of Savanah Van Citters, whose a freshman, to be able to give us some depth because that's where we need depth is outside back.

"We've got some sort of a virus thing going around too and that - when we look at things - we wonder if that's kinda what's been hitting our group. Heather (Johnson) had something happen to her on Friday; still didn't feel great. Mikayla little bit with some fatigue and stuff. Cricket (Harber) had an IV in her before; she was puking all night. We are fighting a little something and it seems like it might be spreading around the team.

"So to be able to use those players today was super helpful, and especially like Lexi Clark (Spokane, WA) coming in and being able to play three positions for us is definitely helpful.

"I was really impressed with someone like KK (Kristin Standish) with the shot she just hit (off the upper left post from 30 yards). We also tried Sydney Anderson. We pulled something out of the woodwork. We just threw Syd, who plays centerback, up front because she's got a burst, she's a physical presence. And without Rubo (Rubosky) right now - and we didn't know for sure how much time Karley was gonna to be able to give us - we tried it and it sort of worked, so we'll see if she can start to give us some depth up front as well. And then I thought you finally get to see the kind of player Brittany Doan is today. She's been nervous as a freshman, and trying to find her way. With her finish, that's what she is capable of. That's exciting to see. I'm hoping she can give us a little bit more of an impact to kind of take a little bit of the pressure off Mikayla, Cassie and Karley - until Rubo comes back anyway.

Doan pushed the lead to three for Gonzaga in the 69th when she gathered the ball 26 yards out heading to the left, spun and put it low past the keeper.

Geerdts added another assist and a goal to her tally for the day in a two minute span late in the game. A long series of passes strung together on the right side in the offensive end finished with her finding Van Citters cutting in from the left side of the area for the easy finish from the center of the area. Less than two minutes later Geerdts knocked one in herself, collecting the ball with her back to goal at the spot and taking it to the top of the area before spinning and finding the back of the net from 17 yards.

The victory over Idaho is the first official result for Edwards against her former assistant Derek Pittman, who took over the Vandals program during the offseason,

"It's tough. The good thing is we played each other in the spring so I think we kind of got that over with," she said of the meeting. "I wish his team well and he's gonna get that team rolling. It's a battle changing a culture."

Words Pittman echoed himself after the game.

"We are still trying to change the culture, take it step by step," he said. "Unfortunately we didn't put out a great effort against Eastern Washington on Friday night and we got punished for it.

"I thought our effort was much better today, but we found a very good Gonzaga team that were hitting it on all cylinders and they came out flying. I thought we did a good job in the first half defending, but we obviously weren't mustering anything in the attack whatsoever. And then we tried to take a few more risks trying to get some numbers forward in the second half and they punished us for it. Credit to them; they did a very good job. We just got to pick ourselves back up and move on; get back up and work harder tomorrow in preparation for Boise State this week."

Culture is not the only challenge facing Pittman at Idaho, which has seen a number of quality players graduate the past couple years and only has two seniors and three juniors on the extremely young 24-player squad.

"There's been a couple of our younger players that have really risen to the occasion and done a good job. Bethany Leliefeld, at the centerback position, did very well today. Chloe Bell has been really good for us at attacking midfielder; she did a lot of things for us. And even Josilyn Daggs up top has been very, very helpful.

"But again, its not just down to them - they are putting in their time and getting better each day. Our returners have got to continue leading the way; our leaders have to continue stepping up and bringing the team together and dusting ourselves off. It's not going to happen over night, changing the culture, changing the environment. We have to work hard and put out good efforts day, and hopefully get the result out of it.

Among the environmental changes is the team's home as they are in their first season back in the Big Sky Conference, though, they have played some of the local teams in the recent past, particularly in the spring, and Friday's fixture versus the Eagles was a non-league meeting.

"It's definitely a good thing about playing Eastern Washington this early in that it didn't really count in the sense of our conference standings.

"But I think, hopefully, it was a wake up call for our players that nothing is going to be easy. We talk to our players all the time - nothing is going to be given. We have to get back out and work harder the next day, keep improving day by day and face our tests on the weekend. I think we did that between Friday and today. We'll be more prepared for Eastern the next time and hopefully, overall, playing a little better when Big Sky Conference comes around."