This post was updated Nov. 20 at 10:20 p.m.
UCLA women’s soccer did everything it could to deny West Virginia a spot in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Players adjusted to the unfamiliar snowy field conditions, staunchly defended their third and, despite trailing 1-0 for much of the bout, notched an equalizer in the 89th minute to send the game into overtime.
But the fourth-seeded Bruins (15-5-2) couldn’t notch the win despite their resilience. The top-seeded Mountaineers (22-1-1) came away with a 1-1 (4-2) victory in penalties in the third-round matchup in Morgantown, West Virginia, eliminating UCLA from its 20th NCAA Tournament.
“(It was) an incredible game, honestly,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “I thought we had some great possessions but weren’t quite dangerous enough, (we) weren’t getting shots off. West Virginia was very dangerous when they countered on us and got some of their possessions going.”
For the first time since switching to a 4-3-3 formation, the Bruins finished the first half of the match scoreless. On the other side of the pitch, the Mountaineers’ fast-paced, pressure-based game plan created several opportunities for the home squad.
UCLA’s defense held its own early on. But in the 23rd minute, West Virginia finally penetrated the stringent back line and got on the board.
Mountaineer forward Heather Kaleiohi bolted past Bruin freshman midfielder Jessie Fleming with the ball, then passed it to Michaela Abam. Abam shook off two defenders near the edge of the box and whipped a cross toward the near post.
UCLA freshman goalie Teagan Micah attempted to clear the ball, but her deflection landed in front of West Virginia’s Sh’Nia Gordon, who flicked it into the right side of the goal for the lead.
“West Virginia has many threats, many weapons, and you can see that,” Cromwell said. “They have the capability of putting players in different spots, which can throw teams off.”
While no goals were recorded in the next 66 minutes, there were several critical opportunities.
The Mountaineers nearly extended their lead in the 25th minute after Bruin sophomore defender Hailie Mace botched a clearance straight to Carla Portillo. Portillo then launched a line drive straight at the cage, but Mace deflected it out of bounds just in time.
In the 79th minute, UCLA senior midfielder Gabbi Miranda rocketed an uncontested shot from just outside the box straight into the hands of Michelle Newhouse, West Virginia’s goalie.
Then, with just two minutes remaining in regulation, the Bruins tallied the equalizer.
Freshman defender Jacey Pederson corralled a loose ball in the Mountaineers’ final third and booted a cross into the crowded box. While a sea of players jumped in an attempt to make contact with the ball, Fleming got a head on it. The ball brushed Newhouse’s hand just before it met the net in the top-left corner of the goal.
“Getting the late goal was huge,” Cromwell said. “That’s (been) a huge sign for our team. The resilience of our team is a characteristic – we’ve done that already earlier this season against Cal, scoring in the last minute.”
The game headed to overtime after UCLA tied it up. West Virginia pressed forward and produced several opportunities, only to be rejected by Micah each time – she compiled four of her nine saves in extra time.
After 110 minutes of play, a penalty shootout loomed.
UCLA and West Virginia went tit for tat in the first two rounds, each making the first penalty, then missing the second.
Mountaineer Ashley Lawrence then grounded one just past junior goalkeeper Siri Ervik, who entered the game after the second overtime period. Redshirt senior forward Courtney Proctor stepped up next for the Bruins, but her shot was stuffed, giving West Virginia a 2-1 advantage.
After the Mountaineers and Bruins each notched their next penalty attempts, West Virginia’s Kadeisha Buchanan netted the game-winner to oust UCLA from the NCAA Tournament. It was the Bruins’ first loss in penalties since 2011.
“In the end, PKs are a horrible way to lose, but it is what it is, and congrats to West Virginia,” Cromwell said.