Nov. 6, 2011
FRESNO, Calif. -
Freshman forward Jade Tarver's goal in the 83rd minute propelled the Utah State women's soccer team to not only its first Western Athletic Conference Tournament title, but also its first NCAA Tournament berth, as the top-seeded Aggies defeated second-seeded Fresno State, 1-0, on Sunday.
Utah State is in the midst of an eight-match unbeaten streak with seven wins and a tie during that span. The only tie came against Fresno State in Logan on Oct. 30 when the Aggies and the Bulldogs battled to 0-0 tie in double overtime. With the win, the Aggies improve to 3-6-3 against Fresno State and 1-3 against the Bulldogs in the WAC Tournament. USU is now 4-6 in WAC Tournament matches, doubling its win total in the tournament.
The Aggies also avenged the loss to the Bulldogs in the 2008 WAC Tournament finals when Fresno State defeated USU, 2-1 in double overtime in Reno, Nev. With the win, Utah State improves to 15-4-2 overall this season which is the most wins in Aggie history. USU captured both the WAC regular-season and tournament title and were the first team to do so since Hawai`i in 2007. Fresno State ends its season with an 11-5-5 record.
"It is a rarity to win the regular season and the WAC Tournament title. Our girls executed the game plan fantastically today, and I am just so proud of them. This win and getting to the NCAA Tournament has been a dream for all of us. It has been a dream for all the players that have come before. We just want to thank all of the Aggie players that have come before us. We have a lot of people pulling for us. We want them to know that a piece of this is for them for all the hard work and the foundation that they laid," USU head coach Heather Cairns said.
Senior goalkeeper Molli Merrill was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament with junior defender Natalie Norris, sophomore midfielder Kendra Pemberton and Tarver joining Merrill on the all-tournament team. Merrill did not allow a goal in 180 minutes of action. Merrill is the first goalkeeper to earn MVP honors since Nevada's Caitlin Homes in 2006.
Fresno State was very aggressive in the first half, challenging Merrill several times. Both Lauren Linstrom and Morgan Castain had shots on goal in the first 30 minutes of play that were saved by the first-team all-WAC goalkeeper. With less than five minutes remaining in the first half, Molly Nizzoli headed the ball with Merrill making another save.
Utah State did not have very many offensive opportunities in the first 45 minutes as Fresno State out-shot USU, 8-2, in the first half. The Aggies did not have any shots on goal with Flanary and Norris taking the Aggies' only shots.
In the second half, Utah State came out strong with Tarver having a one-on-one chance go just wide in the 46th minute.
The Bulldogs continued to challenge the always-tough Aggie defense with three corner kicks in the second half. In the 73rd minute, Jaycee Bingham gave the Aggies a scare with a shot that went just wide of the goal.
The Blue and White made the most of its chances, scoring on its first and only shot on goal of the match. Flanary would play a beautiful ball to Tarver who escaped the Bulldog defense and patiently knocked the ball past Fresno State goalkeeper Katie DeVault.
"Flanary corralled the ball and made a couple dribbles. Jade (Tarver) made a great run, and Flanary played the ball to her. Jade just tucked it away calmly like she has been playing this game forever. She had a bit of a chip on her shoulder after missing one in the first couple minutes of the second half, and she was not going to miss the second one. That is why Flanary set the points record because she can assist and she can score. She is a double threat," Cairns said.
The assist for Flanary continues her record-breaking season. The assist was her 17th of her career, extending her record for career assists at USU, passing Lindsey Smart (2006-09) who had 15 during her Aggie career. She also broke Lauren Hansen (2007-10) for career points with 85. This season, she has 10 goals and six assist for 26 points.
Castain received a red card in the 88th minute and the Bulldogs would play the final two minutes down a player.
For the second match in the tournament, one goal would be all that the Aggies would need. Merrill and the tough Aggie defense ended the match with five saves en route to her record-setting 11th shutout of the season which is a new Aggie record. Megan Mills recorded 10 shutouts in 2003. The shutout was the sixth-straight for the senior goalkeeper. She has not allowed a goal since the Aggies fell 2-1 at Hawai`i on Sept. 30.
With the win on Sunday, Utah State receives the WAC's automatic bid to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies will learn who they will face in the first round when the field of 64 for the 2011 NCAA Women's Soccer Championship is announced on Monday, November 7 at 2:30 p.m. MT on NCAA.com.
Fans can follow USU soccer on Twitter at http://twitter.com at USU Soccer and Utah State Athletics at USUAthletics.
All Tournament Team Amber Pimley Idaho, Jr., MF Christine Leathem, Idaho, Jr., D Daisy Hernandez, New Mexico State, So., MF Yolanda McMillion, New Mexico State, Jr., F Molly Nizzoli, Fresno State, Sr., MF Kendall Van Dine, Fresno State, Sr., D Laura Dodd, Fresno State, Sr., MF Kendra Pemberton, Utah State, So., MF Natalie Norris, Utah State, Sr., D Jade Tarver, Utah State, Fr., F
Tournament MVP: Molli Merrill, Utah State, Sr., GK
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