Los Angeles Soccer: Sergio Cedano
IRVINE -- Long Beach State is returning to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years after knocking off No. 24 UC Irvine in Sunday afternoon's Big West Conference women's tournament final.Jazz Strozier scored in the 13th minute and the 49ers (15-5-1) backed it up with an organized defense led by goalkeeper Kaitlyn Gustaves and center back Alex Balcer, the tournament MVP.
It was the second straight year Long Beach State has won the title at Anteater Field after UCI captured the regular-season title.
“I thought it was a great day for Long Beach State,” head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “We came in with a game plan. We executed. ... [UC Irvine is] a very good team.
“We had to earn every inch that we got, but I think hats off to my team this year, because last year I told their coach I thought they were was the best team, when we shook hands, and I feel like this year we had the best team in the Big West.”
Strozier (Ventura/Buena HS and Ventura College) knocked home a corner kick from Loyola Marymount transfer Kelsey Wilson (San Clemente/San Clemente HS) that was first headed by Balcer and Shawna Gordon (Rancho Cucamonga/Los Osos HS). It ended a 435-minute shutout streak for the Anteaters, who had shut out their previous four and six of the previous seven foes.
Nadia Link (Rowland Heights/Walnut HS) nearly added to the lead seven minutes into the second half with a floater that Anteaters goalkeeper Jennifer Randazzo tipped onto the crossbar and away.
UCI (14-4-2), which is expected to receive an at-large berth when the 64-team field is unveiled Monday, nearly pulled even on a 60th-minute free kick by All-American CoCo Goodson, a blistering shot that slipped past the 49ers wall and required a diving save by Gustaves (Long Beach/Wilson HS).
Long Beach shifted from its customary 4-3-3 alignment to a 4-4-2 in the second half, with defender-turned-forward Nicole Hubbard (Lakewood/Mayfair HS) moving into midfield, then dropping deeper, right in front of the back four, in the closing minutes.
The eighth-ranked Waves (15-1-4) claimed their first conference title since 2002 when San Diego routed Santa Clara, 3-0, knocking the seventh-ranked Broncos from the top spot they wrested last weekend from Pepperdine.
San Diego (12-7-0), which was led by three Stephanie Ochs assists, also claimed a share of the crown, but Pepperdine wins the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament after beating the Toreros last month.
Santa Clara (13-2-5) fell to 6-1-1 in WCC play; USD and Pepperdine finished 7-1.
The Waves scored a 4-0 victory over San Francisco in Malibu, with Laura Cole (Whittier/La Habra HS) and Amanda LeCave scoring first-half goals and Karissa Garcia and Michelle Pao tallying after halftime.
In other women's action:
- Sydney Leroux scored her 15th and 16th goals and assisted two by freshman Sam Mewis as fourth-ranked UCLA (15-1-3) romped to a 5-2 win over USC (7-13-0) in front of 3,826 at Drake Stadium. Zakiya Bywaters had three assists for the Bruins, who finished second to Stanford in the Pacific 12 Conference.