EVANS, Ga. - Fifth-ranked UC San Diego was felled by a 77th-minute Chelsea Palmer goal as No. 2 West Florida took a difficult, narrow 1-0 decision in the 2012 NCAA Division II Women's Soccer Championship Final at Blanchard Woods Park on Saturday. The Peach Belt Conference and Columbia County served as hosts.
With the defeat, California Collegiate Athletic Association and West Region champion UCSD had its season-best nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) snapped and completed the year at 17-3-4 overall. The Tritons were bidding for their eighth national championship overall, third in the NCAA Division II, and first since 2001.
The Argonauts, victors of the Gulf South Conference (GSC) out of Pensacola, Fla., and now first-time NCAA Division II champions, finished their season at 24-1 as winners of 13 straight. It was UWF's second title-game appearance, having previously dropped the 2008 final to Seattle Pacific, 1-0 in double overtime.
By the time the five-minute mark had been up, senior midfielder Jessica Wi had blazed a trail down her right wing and provided a dangerous cross that needed a touch that didn't come. Already the third shot of the afternoon by UCSD came a short time later as senior forward Gabi Hernandez went high over the bar from 12 yards.
Sashana Campbell weaved through the Triton defense and drew a free kick at the top of the penalty area looking straight at goal to create the Argos' first real chance of the afternoon in the 14th minute, but fellow junior Daniela Cruz's effort went right into the arms of Kelcie Brodsky. Four minutes later, Palmer whipped in an inquisitive cross that junior teammate Shelby Bush was narrowly unable to latch onto at the back post as UCSD cleared its line.
Triton sophomore Izzy Pozurama corralled a bouncing ball into the box and took a low, right-footed shot from around the six-yard area in the 25th minute, but it went directly at the legs of junior Argo goalkeeper Sarah Story, who kept it out.
In the 31st minute, Laura Gordon was fouled and drew a free kick from around 30 yards that Hayley Johnson took up the middle, with Hernandez getting her foot to it inside the box, only for the ball to go over the bar.
Moments later, Hernandez chipped a cross in from the left, and Gordon's header came off the crossbar just above the outstretched arm of Story and came away. Gordon stayed active off the bench, going wide of the near post with her left foot from the left wing after receiving a through ball. A strong run, again by Gordon, resulted in a high shot with under three minutes to play in the opening period.
For the first half, UCSD held an 11-4 shot advantage with Gordon providing a game-high four attempts herself.
Right after the restart, the Argos earned a free kick from a precarious spot as center back Ellen Wilson was whistled for a foul and received a yellow card on a challenge against a dashing Campbell through the middle. Palmer's shot off the ensuing set piece took a deflection. Bush and Brodsky both went up for the rebound, with the WFU player nodding her header over the bar for a Triton goal kick.
With about half an hour remaining in the second half, an exquisite combination play started by Danielle Dixon and going through Wi with another right-sided cross, Hernandez with a leave and Cassie Callahan with an attempt that got deflected out, fell to a charging Pozurama, whose shot achingly scampered wide to the left.
In the 70th minute, Palmer powered a shot in from the right diagonal that Brodsky went to ground to save at the near post for a corner kick.
The Argos, the designated home team in the game, began to create opportunities through deep free kicks, but the contest remained scoreless, until the 77th minute. That's when Campbell crossed from the left, Brodsky punched the ball away, and it fell toward Palmer around the penalty spot. Palmer, who was involved in nine of the 10 goals that UWF scored in this NCAA run, took it down with her chest and shot low to the right side and into the back net for a 1-0 edge. It was her team-leading 16th goal of the campaign, and ultimately the championship decider.
A little over six minutes later, Brodsky kept Triton hopes alive by twice turning Campbell away. UCSD had one final chance to equalize with the seconds ticking down as Callahan sent a pass toward goal that bounced just beyond Gordon's reach and trickled agonizingly wide to the right of Story's net.
Brodsky had seven saves for the afternoon. Story made four stops for UWF. West Florida rallied in the second half to hold a 19-15 shot advantage in the game.
The match marked the final time in a UCSD uniform for an incredible 10-player senior class of tri-captains Gabi Hernandez, Hayley Johnson and Ellen Wilson, as well as Britnee Chesney, Danielle Dixon, Alexa Enlow, Laura Gordon, Mary McWalters, Ellie Nevarez and Jessica Wi. The class helped lead head coach Brian McManus' program to an overall record of 64-14-13 (.775), four NCAA Championship appearances, two NCAA national runner-up trophies, two West Region titles, one California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship and two CCAA South Division crowns in four years.
Callahan, Chesney, Wi and Wilson represented the Tritons on the All-Tournament Team.
Triton Notes: UCSD is now 23-9-3 all-time in 12 appearances at the NCAA Division II Championship ... The Tritons are 11-7-1 in NCAA Division II Championship action outside of La Jolla ... They are 2-2 in NCAA Division II finals and 7-4 in NCAA finals overall ... UCSD finished 11-1-3 away from home in 2012, including 3-1-2 on neutral fields ... The Tritons closed the year playing six of seven postseason matches against nationally-ranked teams, going 3-1-2 ... They were 3-2-3 against ranked foes for 2012 ... Saturday's match marked the first-ever meeting between UCSD and West Florida in women's soccer ... Ellen Wilson completed her senior season having played every minute of every match ... Kelcie Brodsky, Britnee Chesney, Alexa Enlow, Hayley Johnson and Jessica Wi also started all 24 matches ... Johnson and Wilson were in the lineup for the 91st and final time in a UCSD uniform, having started every game the Tritons have played since the 2009 opener ... Kelcie Brodsky's seven saves increased her single-season school record to 114 saves ... Game-time temperature was 68 degrees on a beautiful December afternoon in Georgia, with spirited and vocal stands present for both schools ... Anne Wethe (2008-11) from San Diego and former All-American Julia Cuder (1998-2001) from Washington, D.C., were two former players who were in the stands to support the Tritons.
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