AUGUSTA, Ga. - The fifth-ranked UC San Diego women's soccer team takes on No. 2 West Florida for the 2012 NCAA Division II women's soccer championship on Saturday, Dec. 1 Kickoff at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Ga., is scheduled for 12 p.m. PT. A full webcast is available live at NCAA.com.
The Tritons trained for a little over an hour at a soccer complex near their hotel early Friday afternoon. The session served as one final practice for the UCSD seniors. After lunch, Kelcie Brodsky, Itzel Gonzalez, Maile Nilsson and Melisa Tallis participated in a community service outing organized by the NCAA with four student-athletes from each of the four remaining teams in Georgia, with the two men's finalists included. The girls helped sort and package donated goods for the Golden Harvest Food Bank, to then be distributed among those less fortunate.
"Being at this community service project with my teammates was a lot of fun," said Nilsson. "It was a good experience. I've never participated in community service like this before. It was cool to be here with the other teams. I think it's really great that the NCAA has us do this kind of an event close to the holiday season.
"I'm so happy to be a part of this," added the San Diego native out of The Preuss School on campus about being at the final four as a true freshman. "I love being here and being able to support the seniors and all the upperclassmen in what they are doing out on the field. It's awesome. I hope I get to be a part of this again in my career."
Later in the day, a portion of the Tritons went to the movies, some to see Wreck-It Ralph and a couple of others to the Twilight finale. The rest of the ladies stayed around the hotel to rest, or, as the life of a student-athlete would have it, study. Even tonight with a final of an athletic nature tomorrow, UCSD players were taking exams and writing essays.
The Tritons had dinner at an Italian restaurant with the families and friends that have made the trip also largely present. This squad is always well-supported on the road, with the U-C! S-D! "anthem" an unmistakable staple of each and every venue.
Some news and notes looking back on Thursday's semifinal triumph over Grand Valley State and ahead to Saturday's title match.
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The word revenge is not something typically to be associated with collegiate athletics, but we can certainly call it redemption. Two years ago, UCSD dropped a 4-0 decision to Grand Valley State in the national championship game in Louisville, Ky. Call it cold, call it snow, call it whatever. It was not like the Tritons, and more than one player who was on the field that day termed it "embarrassing" during the lead-up to this week.
Consider that since the start of the 2001 season, UCSD has gone 197-39-24, for a winning percentage of .804. Of those 39 losses, 30 were by just a single goal, with seven by two-goal margins, one on penalty kicks, and that lone lopsided result against GVSU.
Thursday night here in Georgia, the Tritons made it right, dominating the first 45 minutes and striking twice within the next 15 before the final score was ultimately more indicative of a close affair at 2-1.
Redemption? You bet.
"I think it showed on the field, definitely in the first half," said senior tri-captain Gabi Hernandez about how focused they were on overturning what transpired two years ago. "We came out so strong. We came out with a fire. We were just going after them. We were connecting our passes so well. We showed through soccer that we wanted this badly. Really badly."
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UCSD and West Florida will meet for the first time on Saturday. The second-ranked Argonauts, from Pensacola, Fla., are champions of the Gulf South Conference (GSC) and sport an overall record of 23-1. While the Tritons take a nine-game unbeaten streak into Saturday with a record of 7-0-2 during this stretch, UWF is a winner of 12 straight. The Argos needed 90 minutes of regulation and 10:33 of one-plus overtime period to dispatch defending national champion Saint Rose in Thursday's late semifinal, 2-1. Leading scorer Chelsea Palmer (15 G, 19 A) notched the winner from the penalty spot after setting up the opener. The junior forward has scored or assisted on eight of the nine goals the Argos have scored in this NCAA run.
UWF is making its 11th NCAA Division II Championship appearance and has posted a 13-8-3 mark in this tournament all-time. The Argos lost to Seattle Pacific, 1-0 in double overtime, in the 2008 final and placed third the following season. Saturday will thus mark their second championship game as the program searches for a first national crown.
West Florida will be UCSD's sixth nationally-ranked opponent over its last seven games in this 2012 postseason. The Tritons are 3-1-3 against such foes, an undefeated 11-0-3 still outside of La Jolla, 15-0-2 when scoring first and 13-0 when tallying at least two goals this year.
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NCAA Insider with Gabi Hernandez
Q-When you walked off the field against GVSU in 2010, did you believe that you would get this second chance at a national title?
GH-You always want to believe it, but it seems so distant when you're starting a season. At the beginning of this season, I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know if we were going to make it here, but as the season progressed, I realized the talent that we had. Coming back here is a gift. We're so excited.
Q-Was it a relief was to win in regulation for once? Did you think, ‘here we go again' late as GVSU pressured for a tying goal?
GH-Yeah. That was definitely a thought that went through my head, but I knew our defense was going to be fine. Nobody wants to go overtime. We did almost everything that we set out to do (in the game). We didn't go into overtime. We finished the game in 90 minutes. We wanted to score the first and second goal. Unfortunately, we forgot to say we don't want to let them score, but we did everything we wanted, and I'm so proud of the defense for keeping everyone out of the back.
Q-What can you say about the contributions of underclassmen Cassie Callahan, Izzy Pozurama and Kelcie Brodsky against GVSU?
GH-Amazing. Ellen (Wilson) and I actually talked about this once, that the younger players don't feel I guess maybe as much pressure as the seniors to win, and they came up so strong for us. They made this game possible. They were in the right place at the right time. They were doing everything they were supposed to do. They've grown so much as players and they made that game for us.
Q-Knowing that your college career will be over in 24 hours, what kind of emotions are you going through right now?
GH-Kind of excited, just for this game. Sad that it's ending, but so happy for all the memories. But so, so excited to see what happens. Just like I was for the last (title) game (in 2010), but the difference between this game and when we were in Kentucky two years ago is instead of being nervous, I'm excited. We're all new players. We're all so different from where we were two years ago. We're so much more confident this time around, and we just want to play.
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It's usually pretty rare to see goals within the first minute of a period in soccer. The Tritons twice in just this postseason alone, have accomplished that feat, each in similar fashion with right-footed shots from distance after left-sided build-ups. Against Sonoma State in the CCAA Championship final on Nov. 4, Gabi Hernandez took a feed from Alexa Enlow and scored 24 seconds into the second half en route to UCSD winning its first conference title since 2008. Thursday night in the semifinals against GVSU, Enlow and Hernandez, along with Izzy Pozurama in between, all helped set up Cassie Callahan for the game's opening goal at 45:28.
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Just hours before guiding the Tritons through the national semifinal last night, Ellen Wilson, Hayley Johnson and Cassie Callahan added Daktronics All-America honors to their Academic All-America recognition from the day before, making the first, second and third team, respectively. Jessica Wi earned Daktronics All-America honorable mention. Click here. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) will announce its year-end awards in the coming days.
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Here in our links area, you can read recaps of the GVSU match on NCAA.com, the U-T San Diego and locally The Augusta Chronicle (brief Saturday preview). Match highlights courtesy of NCAA.com are here. Postgame sound from Brian McManus, Ellen Wilson, Cassie Callahan, Izzy Pozurama, Hayley Johnson and Kelcie Brodsky can all be accessed here. In case anybody missed them last midweek, postgame comments from UCSD's quarterfinal with Colorado Mines can be read here.
Finally, please be sure to view Triton senior tri-captains Gabi Hernandez, Hayley Johnson and Ellen Wilson's entertaining review of Wednesday night's championship banquet. We promise that Ellen is the only communication major among the three. Click here, and then look for them at a comedy club near you.
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Once more, Kyle Binder is on the call for the free NCAA.com webcast Saturday, beginning at 12 p.m. PT, with live stats also available. The men's final between Lynn University of Boca Raton, Fla., and Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State University kicks off the action at 9 a.m. PT from Blanchard Woods Park.
UCSD is just 90 minutes away now from an eighth national title. Here's to it. Go Tritons!
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