Los Angeles Soccer: Jordan Nelson
Long Beach State's unprecedented run through the NCAA Division I women's soccer tournament came to its conclusion against a faster, stronger, better team. That didn't make it any easier to accept.
The 49ers bowed in a quarterfinal Friday night to Duke, which claimed a College Cup berth with a 2-0 victory in Durham, N.C., capping its dominance with two fine second-half goals to reach the final four the first time since 1992.
Long Beach (18-6-1) stayed level until the 67th minute, but its failure to create much of an attack -- with just three shots (to Duke's 15) and none on frame -- meant it was going to take something very special to add to NCAA victories over Pepperdine, Miami and San Diego with an upset of the third-ranked Blue Devils (21-3-1).
“They were very athletic, more so than my kids,” 49ers coach Mauricio Ingrassia told ESPN Los Angeles afterward. “Normally, we get to the ball quicker or we hang in the air higher. They just had some beastly athletes -- and good soccer players. End of the day, we did very well to give ourselves a shot.”
Duke will meet Wake Forest (18-3-4), a 3-0 winner over Central Florida, in a semifinal next Friday in Kennesaw, Ga. A third Atlantic Coast Conference team, Florida State (18-6-1), routed ACC rival Virginia, 3-0, and will face top-ranked Stanford (23-0-1), which beat Oklahoma State, 2-1, in overtime.
Duke was explosive on the flanks, especially through Mollie Pathman on the left, and moved the ball impressively, but Long Beach stayed in the game by surviving Kelly Cobb's blast off the crossbar in the 22nd minute and through strong play by center backs Jordan Nelson (Garden Grove/Pacifica HS and Loyola Marymount) and Alex Balcer and goalkeeper Kaitlyn Gustaves (Long Beach/Wilson HS).
MALIBU -- Nadia Link has netted some wonderful goals this season, but few as sweet -- and none as important -- as her bending blast Saturday afternoon at Pepperdine.
Link fired into the far corner of the net with 13 seconds to go in the first overtime period to lift Long Beach State to a 1-0 triumph over the seventh-ranked Waves in an NCAA Division I tournament opener.
It was the first NCAA victory in 49ers history, and the first over a top-10 opponent, and it was product on Link's twisting shot and five big saves by goalkeeper Kaitlyn Gustaves.
“That's seven years of work -- seven and a half years ...,” said Long Beach State coach Mauricio Ingrassia, who has the 49ers in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. “We had a couple of injuries [when we lost in the first round to San Diego] in '08. And last year we played our best game of the year against Santa Clara, but [their goalkeeper] had the game of her life. This year we felt we had the experience. It would have been very painful to be 0-3 in the tournament without scoring a goal.”
The goal was a beauty. Link (Rowland Heights/Walnut HS) received a pass from midfielder Sidney Garza (Ventura /Buena HS), took the ball up the left flank, then cut inside along the top of the Waves box, where she found uncommon space.
She's a left-footer, but the shot was on her right, and it twisted away -- “corkscrewed,” is how Pepperdine coach Tim Ward put it -- toward the upper-right. Waves goalkeeper Roxanne Barker (Irvine/Woodbridge HS) never had a chance.
“The team was asking why did I wait so long,” said Link, who tied the school record with her 16th goal of the season. “I saw the pass coming from Sidney Garza, and all I heard was Mauricio saying, 'Take it down the line!' And I remember thinking, 'That's a long way.' ... It went in, and I don't even remember celebrating. I was too busy crying.”
Said Ward: “A moment was going to decide the game, and that moment [belonged to] Nadia Link. ... A great player scored a great goal to beat us.”
Link described the odd path of her shot as “the unpredictability of my right foot.”
The strike brought a dramatic end to a tight, thrilling clash marked by superb defense in the boxes, with Long Beach State's backline -- especially center back Jordan Nelson (Garden Grove/Pacifica HS and Loyola Marymount) -- doing well to get in the way of shots by Lynn Williams and Laura Cole (Whittier/La Habra HS).
Gustaves (Long Beach/Wilson HS) came up big five times, including a double-save, the second with her foot, on Amanda LeCave after an uncharacteristic giveaway by defender Alex Balcer. The goalkeeper followed up by snagging a long shot by right back Michelle Pao, Pepperdine's most dangerous attacker, then made two diving saves on Williams in the second half.
Long Beach advances to a second-round clash Friday against Miami (10-7-1), a 3-2 winner over Alabama, at UCLA's Drake Stadium.
In other women's action:
- Freshman Kylie McCarthy knocked home a 65th-minute rebound as No. 2 UCLA (16-1-3) scored a 1-0 victory over visiting New Mexico (12-5-4) in an NCAA Division I first-round game. The Bruins limited the Mountain West Conference champion to three shots, just two on target, in a dominant performance en route to a second-round clash Friday in Westwood against San Diego.