MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the first time in program history, the West Virginia University women’s soccer team will compete at the NCAA College Cup, as the No. 1-ranked Mountaineers defeated No. 5-ranked Duke, 1-0, this afternoon, in the NCAA Tournament Fourth Round, in front of 1,648 fans at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
The top-seeded Mountaineers (22-1-2, 8-0) advance to the tournament’s semifinals for the first time in three tries. WVU will face No. 7-ranked and second-seeded North Carolina in the first of two semifinal matches on Friday, Dec. 2, at 5 p.m. ET, at Avaya Stadium, in San Jose, California.
The Mountaineers are the first team in Big 12 Conference history to advance to the NCAA College Cup.
“It’s surreal,” 21-year Mountaineer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “My whole thing was, I just didn’t want this to stop. For me, it’s an incredible moment because I get to extend my time with this team. It’s a special team. It’s exciting. It’s another first, and it’s more about the opportunity to coach a team I’m so proud of.”
A goal from junior midfielder Alli Magaletta proved to be the difference this afternoon, as the Chesterfield, Missouri, native connected on the Mountaineers’ fourth corner kick in the 16th minute for her third game-winner of the season.
“As a coach, you put a game plan together, but ultimately it’s about a team executing, and I’m so proud of this team,” Izzo-Brown said. “I’m so proud of this team and the iron will it had to prevail through all that pressure. They found a way to pull it out tonight, and I’m just proud of them.”
Today’s win pushes the Mountaineers’ unbeaten streak to 16. WVU improves to 18-5-3 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 13-6-3 in tournament matches played in Morgantown.
Though Magaletta’s early goal gave WVU the advantage it needed, the Mountaineer defense and the play of freshman goalkeeper Rylee Foster provided the final push toward San Jose.
The Mountaineers withstood 11 second-half shots from Duke, the 2015 NCAA Tournament runner-up, including two that bounced off the crossbar. Foster came up big when she needed to, making four first-half stops and a second-half leaping save on a shot from Blue Devil senior midfielder Toni Payne that looked to even the score line in the 58th minute.
“Duke put all sorts of pressure on us,” Izzo-Brown said. “I felt like that was a final-four game. It’s just unfortunate we had to settle it before the final four.”
Duke (15-5-3, 7-2-1 ACC) finished with a 17-12 shot advantage. EJ Proctor made four saves, while Foster’s five stops gave WVU its 17th clean sheet of the season. Back this week from the 2016 FIFA Women’s U-20 Women’s World Cup Papau New Guinea, Foster’s five saves tonight were the most stops she’s been forced to make since tallying six saves in a 4-1 win at Richmond on Sept. 23.
WVU has now posted a shutout in six of its last nine NCAA Tournament matches.
The Blue Devils earned a 10-6 advantage in corner kicks.
“Duke threw everything at us and was getting very direct and putting a lot of balls in,” Izzo-Brown continued. “Keisha (senior defender Kadeisha Buchanan) has anchored that back line all year, and she was incredible with the cues and reading that. It was a different game for us. I give tons of credit to Rylee Foster – she dealt with all that pressure – and also the back line for making the adjustments.”
WVU made the most of its fourth set piece today. Junior forward Michaela Abam perfectly placed the ball in the box, and senior defender Kadeisha Buchanan immediately headed it toward the net. With her back to the goal line, Magaletta kicked the ball toward the near left post for her third score of the season.
“Keish did a lot of the dirty work on that goal,” Magaletta said. “She got the header, and I just happened to be on the line to tip it in. It was a great moment.”
Magaletta was critical in jump-starting the scoring sequence, too, making a great midfield interception that she immediately sent up to junior Carla Portillo. The midfielder found sophomore Sh’Nia Gordon out wide, and the forward drove to the end line before attempting a cross, which Duke blocked out for the corner kick.
With the assist, her ninth of the season, Abam pushes her season point total to 31 (11 G, 9 A) and is now tied with Katie Barnes (1999) at No. 9 in the program record book.
Foster came up with her first two saves of the day minutes before WVU tallied the game-winner, stopping shots from Imani Dorsey in the eighth minute and Christina Gibbons in the ninth.
Buchanan nearly assisted on an insurance goal in the 38th minute, heading the ball inside the box to sophomore forward Grace Cutler, but her shot below the penalty-kick line was stopped by Proctor at the left post.
Duke came out firing in the second half. Defender Chelsea Burns earned the first shot seconds into the stanza, but it was blocked away by Buchanan. The Blue Devils’ first of two close calls came in the 53rd minute, as a header by Dorsey off Duke’s third corner kick of the half slammed off the crossbar before bouncing back into play.
Fate seemed to intervene for the Mountaineers in the 68th minute. Ten minutes after Foster’s leaping save on Payne’s close-range attempt, midfielder Ella Stevens took a shot from six-yards out that looked lethal before bouncing off the crossbar and back into the box.
Junior defender Amandine Pierre-Louis looked to give the Mountaineers a cushion late, sending in a bending shot in the 85th minute, it was stopped at the far right post.
Duke looked to equalize in the final seconds, earning its 10th corner kick in the 90th minute, but WVU defended the ball away from the net. Back-to-back fouls gave the Blue Devils a free kick high of the box in the waning seconds, but the ball was sent wide of the frame.
Stevens paced the field with four shots. Pierre-Louis and Magaletta finished with three shots each.
Today’s win was WVU’s second of the season against the Blue Devils and gives the Mountaineers a 2-1-1 edge in the all-time series.
The 2016 season has been a year of firsts for the Mountaineers. Including its first trip to the NCAA College Cup, WVU earned its first national No. 1 ranking, a position it’s held for the last seven straight weeks. The team also has hit program records in wins (22) and shutouts (17).