PULLMAN -- Another successful regular season for the WSU women's soccer ended with a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night. The Cougs fell 1-0 in overtime to Northwestern on a cold evening at the Lower Soccer Field.
The winner for the Wildcats came in the 104th minute after a well-placed through ball put Michelle Manning one-on-one with a defender. She beat the defender and then put the ball underneath goalie Ella Dederick to put the Cougs to rest with a golden goal.
It was a night that the Cougs will likely look back and regret their missed opportunities. WSU had significant stretches where they controlled the ball and had chances to get on the board. In the end, they could never capitalize and then Northwestern caught them on the counter.
"Credit to Northwestern, they're a good team, we knew that coming in, they're well organized defensively and the most frustrating part is we had more of the shots, more of the ball," head coach Todd Shulenberger said afterwards. "Overall we played well. Fact of the game sometimes."
The loss adds to the sample size of a trend that the Cougs were looking to buck this season. It marks the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament that has ended with a defeat in the first round. Seniors Kourtney Guetlein and Beau Bremer saw a legendary run of success for the team. All four years they made the tournament, a huge accomplishment, even if they never made it out of the round of 64.
"This is a winning senior class; they've been to the NCAA tournament all four of their years, (which) doesn't happen a lot. I tell these girls every day that winning is hard," Shulenberger said. "This senior group knows how to win. They will be hard to replace."
They may have failed to put it away against Northwestern but they fought until the end.
The back and forth first half of action ended scoreless as the teams went to the locker rooms. The game started with a 10 minute stretch that was mainly played in the midfield but it picked up after that as WSU had a pair of excellent opportunities.
In the 16th minute Kaitlyn Johnson pulled the trigger as she was moving east to west across the box. The ball dipped down beneath the post but the Northwestern goalie got her hands on it and deflected it out of bounds. Five minutes later Johnson was taken down in the box on a tackle that the crowd thought warranted a penalty. In the 41st minute, Maddie Haro had a shot close to the net but she sent it wide.
Northwestern had their chances as well but few presented much of a problem for Dederick. In the 24th minute, Northwestern's Addie Steiner connected with a dangerous ball from within the box but it was sent over the goal post. The rest of the wildcats' opportunities were gobbled up by Dederick before they could cause any trouble.
The second half was quite a bit of the same as the teams went back and forth before the Cougs started to control in the final 15 minutes of regulation. WSU had multiple opportunities to take the game in the waning moments of regulation, but failed to finish the game.
They had a couple chances within close range but failed to get off a clean look on goal. In the 63rd minute, the Cougs garnered a free kick from just outside the box, but the Wildcats headed the dangerous ball out of play.
The missed opportunities came back to bite them in the end as they would have liked to have them back after the game ended in overtime.
"Its pretty tough for us, to work so hard and then have it taken away from us," Bremer said. "But I know they're looking forward to next season already."
This season continued to add to the program's reputation as WSU's strongest. It was the fifth straight year the Cougars made the tournament, a school first, and Shulenberger was the fourth head man to lead the team during that streak. Extreme turmoil in the coaching staff wouldn't stop this team and these seniors from succeeding year after year. There's little reason to believe that this team won't just reload and come back strong next year, just like they've done for the last five.