PULLMAN – Vanquishing the ghost of home playoff games past, the WSU woman’s soccer team put Montana to the sword Friday night in a clinical 5-1 display of domination. In fairness, it could have been worse.
With the win, the Cougars advance to face the winner of Saturday’s contest between undefeated Georgetown and Central Connecticut State.
Montana proved little more than a speed bump on the Cougars’ run into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Gracious in victory, WSU coach Todd Shulenberger lauded the opposition before putting his team’s victory in perspective.
“Credit to the girls, but credit to this conference as well,” Shulenberger said. “They’re (Montana) a great team, don’t get me wrong. They did a great job this year with what they did. But the Pac-12 is a different beast.”
Tidy in possession and brimming with intent, the home team kept the Griz penned in their own half for most of the match. Five goals from five different players suggests the Cougs are not wholly dependent on talismanic striker Morgan Weaver who, almost inevitably, scored the winning goal – her 13th of the season.
While the biggest threat faced by WSU goalkeeper Rachel Thompson was frostbite, the Montana defense was continually stretched by the cunning passes of WSU playmaker Maddy Haro and the quicksilver running of Weaver.
Montana soaked up a lot of pressure in the early going, surrendering a string of half-chances while managing to keep the hosts at bay. WSU’s intensity began to build and, in the 23rd minute, a well-worked corner kick saw Weaver unleash a venomous strike which the keeper could only parry.
WSU’s intensity continued to mount and redshirt junior Alysha Overland clanked a shot off the Montana crossbar shortly before Hailey Smith engineered WSU’s opening goal in the 36th minute. Nearing the byline, the freshman forward skipped past her marker, then arrowed in a low shot from a tight angle. WSU’s Brianna Alger was first to react, subtly altering the ball’s trajectory to evade the Montana keeper’s despairing dive.
The first half ended 1-0, but Weaver killed the game off a mere three minutes after the interval. The junior forward – the second highest-scorer in the nation – showed wonderful control in running at the Montana defense, working the ball onto her left foot, then launching a thunderbolt from just outside the penalty area.
With the score 2-0, WSU shifted into game management mode, soaking up pressure and waiting patiently for counter attacking opportunities.
In the 61st minute, Haro’s free kick from the left allowed Overland to win a goalmouth scramble and nudge the ball in from close range. Less than three minutes later, Elaily Hernandez-Repreza swung in a cross from the left and Hailey Smith made it 4-0 with a near post header.
Finally, in the 83rd minute, Gracie Armstrong applied the coup-de-grace to make it 5-0.
Montana’s lone goal, scored in the 85th minute, was too little, too late.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.