In a thrilling double overtime championship game that was decided on penalty kicks, the UVU women’s soccer team defeated Seattle University to claim the Western Athletic Conference title and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament where they will face the No. 1 overall seed Stanford in the first round.
The Wolverines first beat sixth-seeded Grand Canyon University 1–0 in the WAC Tournament’s semifinals on Friday, Nov. 3 to advance to the finals on Sunday, Nov. 5. Freshman midfielder Siri Dahl evened the score 1–1 against Seattle University in the second half. That score remained through two overtimes and the title was decided on penalty kicks. After sophomore goalie Brooklyn Nielsen forced three Redhawk misses, Breanna DeWaal, Libby Weber and Tori Smith went 3-for-3 to give UVU the 3–1 penalty kick advantage, the championship and a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“It was an awesome win. It was what we deserved,” DeWaal said. “It’s been so fun to just be here and have this opportunity.”
As newly crowned WAC Champions, the Wolverines have a tall task ahead of them. Entering the tournament with a 5–2 conference record and a 10–11–1 overall record, UVU will face Stanford, the No. 1 team in the nation in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal comes into the tournament riding a 16-game win streak including a perfect 11–0 league record and an 18–1 overall record.
“We knew we were going to get a big dog and at the end of the day if we want to make a run we’re going to have to beat good teams,” said UVU head coach Chris Lemay. “To beat the best team in the country — that would be an awesome box to check.”
Stanford is making their 20th NCAA Tournament appearance in a row while the Wolverines will play on the national stage for only the second time. The first time UVU made the tournament was in 2015 where they lost 1–0 to BYU in the first round. Despite facing the best team in the nation and lacking experience, the team is embracing the underdog status.
“We knew we were going to get a big dog and at the end of the day if we want to make a run we’re going to have to beat good teams. To beat the best team in the country — that would be an awesome box to check.” — Chris Lemay, UVU women’s soccer coach
“This is my second time but I am so excited because we get to go somewhere so cool,” Weber said. “Something I’ve always dreamt of doing is going to the NCAA Tournament and playing the number one seed. It is really exciting for us and I’m just excited to see what our team can do.”
The Wolverines will have to be on top of their game if they want to stop the country’s best offensive team. The Cardinal is first in the nation in scoring (3.68 goals per game), assists (3.53 per game), points (207), and win-lost-tied percentage (0.947). But UVU is up for the challenge as they feel their biggest improvement this season has come on the defensive end.
“I think we’ve been more difficult to break down defensively,” Lemay said. “I thought we were conceding goals too easily early on. It’s a team thing, from top to bottom from front to back we’ve done better defensively and we’ve taken more pride in details and not conceding so easily.”
On the offensive end, the Wolverines have nine players with goals this season, but the key for UVU will be DeWaal who has a team-high nine goals on the year.
“Bre DeWaal has put out all year long,” Lemay said. “She’s been a catalyst of our team the entire season.”
Stanford is the heavy favorite in the matchup but whatever the outcome, UVU views it as a win to make the tournament and won’t go down without a fight.
“This has to be the standard,” Lemay said. “We want to represent our school on the national stage year in and year out so this is one year that we’ve got this opportunity. We didn’t do enough in the preseason to get ourselves an RPI where we don’t have to play number one in the first round but these are the cards that have been dealt to us now so this is what we’re going to play.”
The Wolverines will travel to Standford to try to advance in the tournament as they battle the No. 1 overall seed Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. MST.