The MSU women’s soccer team's historic season came to an end in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night when the Spartans fell to first-seed BYU by a score of 3-1.
Head Coach Jeff Hosler fielded an unchanged starting eleven from the Spartans' previous 1-0 win over Harvard Thursday.
It was a tense beginning to the match with both sides approaching the match relatively pragmatically at first. Neither side looked to commit too many players forward, with most of the first 20 minutes being spent in the midfield.
After the match, Coach Hosler spoke about what he felt was a strong opening to the match for the Spartans.
“I thought we did a really good job of that in the first half, first 15 minutes I think really allowed us to settle into the game, gain confidence, and grow into the game," Hosler said. “From those moments we have to create more chances than we did… we stayed true to our identity we wanted to make our opponents uncomfortable with our press, keep the ball well and I think for large spells we did a very good job of that.”
As the match settled, BYU began to work themselves into the game creating multiple chances from the counter-attack. In the 25th minute, senior forward Ellie Boren went on a surging run into the Spartan 18-yard box before rifling a shot that called on a quick reaction save from MSU graduate goalkeeper Kaitlyn Parks.
Following the Boren chance, the Cougars started to find themselves in the Spartan defensive half more and more on the counterattack but struggled to capitalize on any of their decisive moments.
The final 5 minutes of the match saw BYU continue to send wave after wave of attacks into the Michigan State 18-yard box. The Spartan's backline remained resilient blocking three shots from BYU in the final moments of the first half.
The beginning of the second half saw the Cougars burst out of the gates. BYU bombarded the Spartan's 18-yard box while maintaining possession on the top of their box creating chance after chance. In the first five minutes of the half, the Cougars generated three shots, and two corners but had no goal to show for it.
The Spartans needed just their first shot of the second half to grab the lead. In the 52nd minute, a BYU clearance found senior midfielder Gabby Mueller from 20 yards out. Mueller would get her head up, glide past her marker and roll a shot into the bottom left corner to give the Spartans the lead against the run of play.
Two minutes later, the Cougars found the back of the net twice, but were only awarded one goal. A cross from BYU flew into the Spartan box that was met by BYU sophomore forward Allie Fryer as she lifted her shot over Parks. The goal was immediately called off by Head Referee Megan McCain who instead pointed at the Spartan penalty spot for a foul beforehand. Senior midfielder Brecken Mozingo stepped up to take the penalty, slotting her effort in the bottom left corner to bring BYU back level.
After the match, Coach Hosler spoke about the recurring issue his team has had with conceding right after they score.
“It’s been a problem of ours all year, after we score other teams have been able to take advantage, and they did again tonight,” Hosler said. “Post-season soccer is a fragile thing, you give a team like BYU that many chances, and they’re going to find ways to capitalize as they did tonight”.
Following the equalizer, BYU looked rejuvenated. The Cougars returned to the Spartan 18-yard box creating multiple looks from cutbacks, deep crosses and combination play.
The pressure of the Cougars bore fruit in the 60th minute. Mazingo cleverly won the ball of Mueller from 25 yards out before cutting onto her favored left foot to rocket a shot into the top right corner that left Parks no chance to make a save.
The Spartans were forced to go searching for an equalizer and pushed more and more players forward as desperation built. The Spartans found multiple dangerous positions but couldn’t create anything decisive with their opportunities.
In the 80th minute, the Cougars killed off the match thanks to a header from sophomore forward Ellie Walbruch, who rose above the crowd nodding home the BYU corner kick to give the Cougars a 3-1 lead.
The Spartan’s historic season of firsts that’s seen them become back-to-back Big Ten Conference Champs, reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years and reach the third round of the NCAA Tournament has come to an end.
“This is uncharted territory for our program, for all the players on our roster. To play the way we did Thursday, turn that around on short notice and be able to do it again tonight… I think we grew a lot as a program today.” Hosler said.
The Cougars will now face the winner of North Carolina, and Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament which is set to take place Nov. 24th or 25th.
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