AUSTIN, Texas -
Senior forward Annette Ilg
scored in the 22nd minute as the 12th-ranked UC San Diego women's soccer team prevailed 1-0 over No. 8 St. Edwards in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight on Saturday afternoon at SEU Soccer Field in Austin.
UCSD improves to 18-2-3 on the season and will head to the NCAA Division II Final Four at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky Dec. 2-4. The Tritons await the winner of No. 1 St. Rose (23-0) and No. 4 Westchester (18-1-3). St. Rose and Westchester will play on Sunday.
20 minutes in, Sarah McTigue would draw-in two Hilltopper defenders, using a clever step-over to gain the advantage down the line. Her cross was deflected out for a corner kick, giving Haley Johnson an opportunity to whip-in a right-footed delivery. Johnson played it towards the short post, forcing SEU to panic and send it out for another corner kick.
Johnson took the kick from the opposite side on her second corner kick attempt, curling in a low, driven ball once again to the front post. Shelby Wong dummied it, allowing the ball to create confusion at the goal mouth. SEU failed to clear the bouncing ball off the line, allowing Ilg to toe-poke in the shot through traffic for the game's only goal.
"Hayley sent it in low and hard and Shelby played a perfect dummy, just like we do in practice," said Ilg. "The defense left the ball sitting there and all I had to do was poke it in."
Ilg, who earned All-CCAA Second Team honors in 2009 after playing four years for the UCSD women's basketball team, now leads the women's soccer team with 10 goals on the season while Johnson has registered a team-high 10 assists.
Much of the first half was played in the Hilltopper's defensive end, however, neither team was able to create any legitimate scoring opportunities besides the score by Ilg. SEU midfielder Bethany Bennett led a two-on-one counter attack in the last minute of the opening half, but Triton sweeper Ellen Wilson got a foot in to clear the danger before Bennett could slot a pass to an open teammate.
"When you are able to score the first goal it gives you a huge advantage," said UCSD head coach Brian McManus. "They were a great team and really put the pressure on us in the second half, but we were able to pack it in and keep them from scoring."
Sensing their season might be slipping away, the Hilltoppers pressed in the final frame, sending multiple defenders forward while attempting to play a series of long balls through the Triton defense. 15 minutes into the second half, Wong was called for a debatable hand ball along the right edge of the goal box. Sara Spaventa cleared out the ensuing free kick with a header to the edge of the goal box, but the ball dropped to a wide-open Brianna Hinnekamp. Fortunately for the Tritons, Hinnekamp fanned her attempt over the bar, giving UCSD a goal kick.
UCSD nearly made it 2-0 minutes later, but Anne Wethe's solid header off another corner kick from Johnson missed the far post by inches.
The UCSD backline of Wilson, Spaventa, Johnson and Lisa Bradley protected their goal throughout the match, providing goalkeeper Kristin Armstrong with a rather uneventful afternoon. Neither goalkeeper was credited with a save.
"I give credit to St. Edward's because they did everything they were supposed to do," said McManus. "I thought our defense did a fantastic job of shutting them down, especially in the second half."
UCSD will be looking for its eighth national championship in program history and its third at the Division II level when the team boards its flight to Kentucky in less than two weeks. The last time the Tritons appeared in the Final Four was in 203 when they fell to Franklin Pierce, 2-1, in overtime in the national semifinals.
UCSD has won two national championships at the Division II level in 2000 and 2001. The Tritons won the Division III national championship in 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995, and 1989.
Around 30 UC San Diego parents attended the match, all equipped with orange-playing-cones-turned-mini-megaphones to help amplify cheers of "U-C-S-D". Many painted their faces gold and yellow, much to the embarrassment of the players. However, after the match the Triton players were not shy about painting their own faces... Five minutes before her goal, Ilg was fouled along the left sideline and got up with a noticeable limp due to an injury to her right shin. Drawing ire from the home crowd due to its assumption she dove, Ilg used the same leg to toe-poke in her goal minutes later... St. Edward's students repeatedly chanted "Go back to California" towards UCSD in the first half. The Tritons will be glad to go home- with a West Region championship and a plane ticket stamped to Kentucky in hand... UCSD players have been in three different time zones in the past ten days (Hawaii-Aleutian, Pacific, Central) and will enter the Eastern Time Zone when the team travels to Kentucky in two weeks.