Women's Soccer: Western Washington Wins GNAC Title
Play Video Western Washington won the GNAC title with 2-0 win Saturday at the Starfire Sports Complex (Photo by Andy Towell)
Western Washington won the GNAC title with 2-0 win Saturday at the Starfire Sports Complex (Photo by Andy Towell)
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Saturday, November 3, 2012

TUKWILA, Wash. - Forwards Joana Houplin (Sr., Olympia) and Catherine Miles (Fr., Anacortes) each scored second-half goals as Western Washington  defeated Montana State Billings 2-0  to win the inaugural Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament championship game Saturday afternoon at the Starfire Sports Complex.

The Vikings (17-3-0) earned the GNAC's automatic berth in the West Regional of the NCAA Division II national tournament, which begins Nov. 8. They reached the final with a 2-0 semifinal win over Western Oregon on Thursday.

WWU was the No.1 seed in the tourney after taking the league’s regular-season title with a 12-2-0 record.

MSUB, which fell to 13-6-1, got to the title game as the third seed with a 1-0 upset win over nationally No.21 Seattle Pacific, the No.2 seed.

“MSUB is a good team, and they were well-prepared,” said WWU coach Travis Connell (10th year, 119-58-19). “They made it difficult for us. I’m proud of our team for sticking to the game plan and finding a way to win.”

Tournament MVP Kristin Maris (Jr., Issaquah) had the best opportunity of a scoreless opening half, getting free on the left side of the penalty area and hitting a low shot just wide of the far post. The Vikings had a 5-1 advantage in shots in the first period.

The Vikings controlled both possession and territory in the early moments of the second half, and that paid off in the 54th minute. Maris played a high ball that bounced just outside the top of the penalty area.

An MSUB defender tried to head the ball back to goalkeeper Aiko Johnson, but Houplin intercepted the short pass and volleyed a shot in from 19 yards.

“I knew she was going to head it back,” said Houplin, who scored her fifth goal of the season and also had the game-winner in Western’s 3-0 victory over MSUB at Bellingham. “I reacted and tried to get there first and was able to knock it over the keeper.”

The Yellowjackets’ best chance to equalize came in the 77th minute, when a shot from 14 yards by Alisa Sagdahl forced WWU goalkeeper Jamie Arthurs  to make a leaping save to deflect the shot around the post.

WWU got an insurance goal in the 82nd minute. Maris fought off a defender in the penalty area and tapped a short pass to Catherine Miles (Fr., Anacortes), who finished from the goal mouth.  The goal tied Miles for the team lead at eight with Maris, whose assist was her fifth of the season.

 “Maris was heavily involved in both goals, but she does more than that,” Connell said. “Her hold up play and the physical way she pressures makes it so difficult for the other team.”

Arthurs, the GNAC Player of the Year, made five saves in extending her school and GNAC-record for shutouts to 16 on the season and 39 for her career.  She entered the week leading NCAA II nationally in goals against average at 0.26.

The 17 wins ties a school record set in 2008 when the Vikings advanced to the Far West Regional title game.

“We had a lot of great performances today,” Connell said. “The players wanted it really bad and did what it took to get the win.”

WWU’s opponent, seed and the regional site will be announced Monday (4:30 p.m.) on the NCAA Selection Show at www.ncaa.com.