The New Mexico women’s soccer team showed it can keep pace with the Mountain West’s best team, but San Diego State proved it’s the tournament’s No. 1 seed for a reason.
SDSU forward Leah Pruitt broke a 1-all tie as the Aztecs dropped the Lobos Friday night at a rain-soaked UNM Soccer Complex. Pruitt, the standout freshman who will likely be considered for the player of the year award, netted the go-ahead goal in the game’s final moments, ending a stretch where both defenses withstood aggressive attacks.
The loss pushes UNM (9-8-1, 7-3-1 MW) into the No. 3 seed for next week’s Mountain West tournament in San Diego. The Lobos needed the win over SDSU to grab the first-round bye since San Jose State beat Fresno State 2-0 earlier in the day.
“You don’t want to walk away from a game thinking ‘I don’t know what we have to do to beat them,’ and I think we’re capable of it (beating SDSU),” UNM head coach Heather Dyche said. “I think we missed some good chances, I think they missed some good chances, but I don’t think we played poorly tonight.”
A third-place finish does place UNM opposite San Diego State in the bracket, meaning a rematch from Friday’s regular-season finale would be for the conference title and an NCAA tournament appearance.
San Diego State (14-4-0, 10-1-0 MW) entered Friday night's game having already secured the top spot in the league tournament but still came out firing as much as UNM did. Both teams finished the game with 13 shots apiece.
Coincidentally, SDSU took seven first-half shots and six in the second half, while the Lobos attempted six through the first 45 minutes and seven in the latter half. The Aztecs did have a 7-3 shots-on-goal advantage, with UNM goalkeeper Cassie Ulrich stopping five.
“San Diego State really capitalized on our mistakes, but I thought we did a really good job calming down and controlling the ball,” midfielder Alyssa Coonrod said. “We passed it really well, but I’m not sure if it was for a full 90. We need to clean some things up and if we play the best time we did in this game for a full 90, we’ll be good.
The first two goals came unassisted, with UNM midfielder Maddie Irwin striking first. At the 35:15 mark, UNM played the ball across and was touched by a SDSU player. Irwin found the ball and made a move past an Aztec defender. It set up a successful 22-yard shot on SDSU keeper Melanie Vaughn.
Irwin converted her second goal of the year.
As the game approached halftime, SDSU defender Hailey Balma netted the equalizer with her unassisted attempt tried from 25 yards away.
Through the second half, each team took its turns as the more forceful offense. Forward midfielder Claire Lynch had one of UNM’s best opportunities in the second half. She had an open look at the net after a deflected shot by teammate forward Madisyn Olguin, but Lynch’s shot sailed high over the net.
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Yet both defenses held until Pruitt’s goal with 3:53 remaining in the game. Benefitting from a forward Hedda Regefalk through pass, Pruitt fired toward Ulrich. The Lobo keeper could not get a strong enough touch on the ball to save it, and it rolled past the goal line. The score was Pruitt’s 10th this season.
Before the game, UNM honored five seniors – Ulrich, Coonrod forward Madisyn Olguin, midfielder/forward Dylann O’Connor, midfielder/forward Lindsey Guice, forward Korynn Blanksma and defender Olivia Ferrier – with a video tribute honoring their final collegiate game at the UNM Soccer Complex.
“Once I walked into the locker room (before the game), so many teammates came up to me and just gave me a huge hug,” Coonrod said. “There was a moment there where I thought I might cry and I thought, ‘Ugh,’ but it was just fun. I couldn’t be happier. It was a great game to play. Even though we lost, it was a great game to play.”
J.R. Oppenheim is the managing editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JROppenheim.