Kansas City, Mo. – In a match that saw plenty of scoring opportunities for both squads, the No. 15 West Virginia University women’s soccer team took advantage of its best look and walked away with its first Big 12 Soccer Championship title, defeating Oklahoma State 1-0 this afternoon at Swope Soccer Village.
The title is the first for any WVU team at a Big 12 Conference championship. It is the program’s fourth conference championship title and third in four years.
Today’s win is the Mountaineers’ (16-3-2, 7-1 Big 12) 12th victory in 13 matches. In just two seasons, No. 1-seed WVU has won three Big 12 titles – back-to-back regular-season titles, and today’s conference tournament.
With the win, WVU earns the Big 12 Conference’s automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Championships, ensuring the Mountaineers’ 14th straight appearance in the tournament, the 10th-longest active streak in the nation.
“For me, it’s always about the journey with a new team and having them experience the championships,” say Big 12 Coach of the Year Nikki Izzo-Brown. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be there before. This team has just grinded all year long. They’ve faced such adversity, and for them to pull together and get this one, our first one, makes it more special. It’s just special. Everything about this experience this week was awesome.
“I hope we get seeded. I thought we did enough, win or lose this game, but now I hope this win shows that we deserve a seed.”
WVU’s goal came midway through the second half. In a match that saw both teams take 20 shots, it was a midfield free kick from redshirt-freshman defender Carly Black
that finally got the Mountaineers on the board.
Black lofted the ball toward the far right post, and freshman midfielder Ashley Lawrence
was able to settle it. She sent a high kick just above the head and through the outstretched hands of OSU’s Michaela Ongaro for her first game-winner of her WVU career.
“It was definitely a scrappy goal, but when you’re inside the 18, you just have to have a one-touch finish, and that’s what happened,” says Izzo-Brown. “I thought it was a good-enough goal to win.”
“Coach Izzo-Brown always talks about crashing the goal any opportunity that we get,” says Lawrence. “We were all crashing, and I kept running through it. I noticed that the ball was there, I put my foot on it and prayed it went in.”
Senior goalkeeper Sara Keane
was spectacular in the net for the Mountaineers, making a career-high nine saves for her third shutout in as many games, ninth of the season and 26th of her career.
“I though Sara was unbelievable today,” Izzo-Brown says. “I thought she was outstanding this whole tournament.”
“I knew this was going to be a big game for us, and Oklahoma State came out hard, like we knew they would,” says Keane. “They have a lot of great players, so I tried to back up my defense as much as possible. Everyone did awesome – they all played great. This was such a great team effort.”
Ongaro made four saves for the Cowgirls (9-6-6, 2-3-3 Big 12). OSU earned a 10-5 advantage in corner kicks.
Tonight’s win is the second victory of the season for WVU over OSU, as the Mountaineers earned a 2-1 victory in Stillwater, Okla., on Sept. 27.
After upsetting the No. 3-seed Texas on Wednesday and the No. 2-seed Texas Tech on Friday, the Cowgirls came out attacking today, registering five shots on-goal in the first half. The Mountaineers weathered the storm, relying on Keane’s experience and authority to stand tall.
Keane’s first stop of the game in the eighth minute was special, as she made a moving save on a shot from OSU’s Madison Mercado from 17-yards out.
The Mountaineers responded with their own chance three minutes later. Sophomore midfielder Amanda Hill
received a ball from freshman midfielder Tessa Broadwater
, turned and took a blast in the middle of the box from 16-yards out, but Ongaro was there for the stop.
The Cowgirls’ best chance at an early advantage came in the 13th minute. OSU’s Mercado was awarded a penalty kick after she collided with sophomore defender Leah Emaus
at the top of the box. Keane didn’t have to make a play on the attempt, as the shot went wide left.
Keane was called back into action three minutes later, as Mercado attempted to avenge her blown opportunity. After making a move on the WVU backline, the Cowgirl took a shot from 15-yards out. Keane dove toward the near post and batted the ball away.
Second-half action was just as tense. Keane thwarted the Cowgirls’ chance to break the draw in the 52nd minute, as the Mt. Laurel, N.J., native came out of the goal box on a chance and went down to stop OSU forward Courtney Dike as she drove toward the net.
Lawrence nearly tallied a goal 14 minutes prior to her game-winner, but her blast from 17-yards out hit the post and deflected out of play.
Four Mountaineers were named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team, led by Offensive MVP Frances Silva
and Defensive MVP Kadeisha Buchanan
. Keane and Lawrence also found a spot on the team.
The complete NCAA Championship bracket will be released tomorrow during the Selection Show, streamed live on NCAA.com beginning at 4:30 p.m.