Monday, August 29, 2016

Historic debut for Lady Zags beneath the lights

The Lady Zags celebrate first win in 25 tries against WSU | Photo Gallery [+]
You probably could not script things any better. On a day in which the Gonzaga men's program put forth their best offensive output in two years for a 4-1 win against University of Illinois-Chicago, the Gonzaga women bested them in the nightcap in the first official contest beneath the new lights at Luger Field. They registered their first-ever win, 1-0, against nearby giant Washington State, a regular NCAA tournament participant that was coming off a 1-0 win against 13th-ranked Santa Clara just three nights earlier in Pullman.

"Bring in the lights, right," Gonzaga coach Amy Edwards agreed after the contest. "It's history: first night in the lights, and the first night to beat WSU so couldn't be more proud of the effort."

And it was quite the effort. The Bulldogs came out with no fear and flat out attacked Washington State right from the start of the contest and had the Cougars on their heels much of the first half as they had chance after chance in front of goal.

"That I think is something we battled with. We battled with that in Hawaii against Oregon, and I think we just decided we have nothing to lose here. That growth and the maturity of coming at them is the step we needed to take if we are going to continue to have a solid season."

Unfortunately, only of those opportunities actually found its way into the back of the net. But in the end, that was all they needed.

Nineteen minutes in freshman defender Madeline Gotta came forward up the right side and crossed a ball into the box to the far corner of the six. Callie Best rose above the defense and nodded a ball down that goalkeeper Ella Dederick was unable to stop.

"Callie Best has played tremendously since last spring, and we knew she was gonna have a big impact for us. She had to play in three or four different positions today - she's incredible.

"I think, also lets talk about Sarah Swanson, who got thrown into the fire this year. She wasn't expecting to take the reigns, and the composure she had today - I am just so proud of her."

The redshirt junior came into the campaign with very minimal experience behind Christie Tombari the past three years, but used a successful stint during the summer helping lead the Spokane Shadow Women's First Team to the inaugural Northwest Premier League title to prepare for the future only to be thrust unexpectedly into the starting role.

"That's what we asked her to do. Go play with the Shadow and gain some confidence and keep playing. And it paid off," Edwards said of the keeper, who has two shutouts in four games.

Three minutes before Best provided the opener, it looked like Aliyah Miller was going to provide the go-ahead goal when she got her head on a corner and sent it to the far right post, but WSU midfielder Sofia Anker-Kofoed stood her ground on the post and headed it away from goal (pictured above).

Washington State began to turn the tide in the second half, fighting to find an equalizer. Five minutes into the half, Kelsee Crenshaw fired a shot that rang off the crossbar.

As the contest was coming to a close, the Cougars had two more excellent looks. In the 85th minute Kaitlyn Johnson ripped a 28 yard effort that slipped inches over the crossbar and landed in the roof of the goal. Three minutes later Maegan O'Neill let loose from about 35 yards on the left side, forcing Swanson to fully extend toward the right post to knock the ball away. The rebound was openly waiting for a tap-in by Crenshaw, but she knocked it wide of the post.

"We knew they were going to [come back at us]. Obviously, when you are down a goal you are gonna add a little push in. We got some opportunities off of that catching them off the counter that we didn't convert, so obviously they were gonna come right back at us. Made it exciting for the fans."

Among those counter opportunities for Gonzaga were chances by Jodi Ulkekul and Maddie Kincaid. Ulkekul launched a long shot in the 64th minute that smacked off the crossbar and Kincaids well-driven shot to the lower left corner in the 79th looked like it was going to double the advantage before Dederick swooped in at the last fraction of a second with a diving tip to knock it away.

At the final whistle, the zero finally disappeared from the front of Gonzaga's all-time record against Washington State, which had posted 23 wins and a draw against the Bulldogs in the previous 24 meetings.

"I talked to the team about how there are a lot of individuals that came together to bring these lights onto this field, and the work that Tommy Brown does to create this incredible surface. To respect the opportunity and respect those that give you this opportunity to play such a great opponent under lights. Just asked them to give it their all - and have fun."

INWsn Player of the Game: Callie Best -- The midfielder played a critical role in the outcome with the goal, but was a constant presence in the attack throughout the match and pressured the Cougars continually to earn the ball back in the offensive end.

Gonzaga Men 4 :: 1 Univ of Illinois-Chicago

In the earlier contest, the Bulldogs put forth one of their best offensive efforts in quite some time, netting more than two goals for the just the second time since they posted four goals the last time in October of 2014. Four different players provided the fireworks with Ben White netting the opener four minutes in. UIC equalized in the 10th, but Austin Giftopoulos, who set up the first, tallied in the 14th and White found Denis Kalamar to make it a two-goal advantage at the break. Jalen Crisler capped the scoring in the 51st.   Photo Gallery [+]

Coming Up...

The Gonzaga men's team plays host to Oral Roberts Thursday evening at 6:00 and the ladies are in action the following night against another local foe when Eastern Washington University visits at 6:00. The two sides then play back-to-back on Sunday with the men hosting Seattle University at 2:30 and the ladies taking on Portland State at 6:00.