Falcons Hold Serve, Advance To Regional Finals
Seattle Pacific midfielder Claire Neder (right) controls the ball against Sonoma State in a regional semifinal NCAA tournament match.
Seattle Pacific midfielder Claire Neder (right) controls the ball against Sonoma State in a regional semifinal NCAA tournament match.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

SEATTLE, Wash. – Chloe Gellhaus and GNAC Player of the Year Makena Rietz each scored, Riley Travis made six saves and top-seeded Seattle Pacific survivied a late push from No. 4 seed Sonoma State to win their second-round NCAA tournament match-up by a score of 2-1 and ensure the fourth showdown of the season with GNAC rival Western Washington in the West Regional final.

Travis helped the Falcons stymie a Sonoma State attack that ran rampant in a 5-1 first-round victory over No. 5 seed Hawaii Hilo on Thursday. The Seawolves, who were the CCAA regular-season champions, were competing in their eighth NCAA tournament in the past nine years and beat Seattle Pacific 1-0 in the last time the two programs faced off in 2019.

This is a different SPU team, however, and the Falcons flexed their offensive muscle early that has led them to 60 goals on the year, which ranks tied for eighth in Division II. Gellhaus and GNAC Championships MVP Sophia Chilczuk threatened the Sonoma State goal early on with shot attempts, but the breakthrough came in the 24th minute.

Midfielder Claire Neder received a throw-in on the left hand side and took an excellent touch to round a defender. With the angle, Neder dribbled towards the end line and crossed into the box for Gellhaus, who hammered home a header from four yards out. The goal continues a postseason tear for Gellhaus, who tallied four goals and five assists in the regular season but scored in each of SPU’s two GNAC Championships victories and now the Falcons’ NCAA Tournament opener.

Sonoma State responded right away. Forward Olivia Aschbrenner forced two saves from Travis within five minutes of the goal, while holding SPU with another shot on target until the halftime interval. After 45 minutes, the stats showed that the Seawolves were step-for-step with Seattle Pacific – each team had four shots and three corner kicks, with Travis’s two saves as the decider.

The Falcons needed to make a play to create some distance from Sonoma State, and five minutes after halftime, they did. Forward Sophie Beadle was the architect, going on a long, dribbling run and taking on a defender at the right-hand edge of the box. Beadle hit a low cross that one-hopped across the face of goal and Rietz was there at the far post, sliding and slamming the ball with authority into the top of the net. Rietz has 13 goals this season, keeping pace with Western Washington’s Jenna Killman, who also scored earlier in the day.

At this point, it seemed like SPU would coast to a win. They kept the pressure up, as right back Marissa Bankey forced Seawolves goalkeeper Phoebe Barnes into a save in the 56th minute, and Barnes did incredibly well to read a through ball, charge out of her net and slide to punch the ball away, upending Gellhaus in the process and denying her a one-on-one opportunity for a second goal. GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Madison Ibale saw her efforts cleared off the line twice by the Sonoma State defense in the 65th and 68th minutes.

Then, a moment of individual brilliance changed the complexion of the game in the 74th minute. Lexi Zandonella-Arasa intercepted a pass just inside SPU’s half and found herself with a little space to dribble in front of Seattle Pacific’s back four. As the Falcons’ center backs began to come forward to challenge her, Zandonella-Arasa uncorked a rocket of a shot from 24 yards out. Travis leapt and extended, but had no chance as the ball was placed perfectly in the top right corner. Suddenly, the Seawolves were within a goal and had all the momentum.

Sonoma State had limited chances in the second half, but they were all effective and dangerous ones. While the Falcons outshot the Seawolves 10-5 in the match’s final 45 minutes, all five of those Seawolves shots were on goal. Fortunately for Seattle Pacific, Travis stopped four out of five to preserve the win, but had to make saves in the 67th, 72nd, 80th and 86th minutes.

Zandonella-Arasa and forward Malia Falk, who tied for the team lead in the regular season with five goals apiece for Sonoma State, each had two shots on goal in the second half. Seawolves defender Julia Horner-Bell also hit the target.

Although Seattle Pacific outshot Sonoma State 14-9 for the game, each team had seven shots on goal. Travis showed her class with six saves, while Barnes only had three, needing the defense to bail her out twice off the line after she was beaten. Sonoma State committed 11 fouls to the Falcons’ seven, and conceding eight corner kicks to SPU while only taking three themselves.

The win punched Seattle Pacific’s ticket to the West Regional final, where they will face a familiar foe – No. 2 seed Western Washington, who the Falcons beat twice in the GNAC regular season and again in the finals of the GNAC Championships. Despite currently trailing the season series 3-0, the Vikings are a tough out this time of year. In 2019, WWU advanced all the way to the national championship game despite entering the West Regional as the No. 3 seed.

The date and location of that matchup is still to be determined, since it will be hosted by the highest remaining seed from the South Central regional, whose second-round matchups take place Sunday. Dallas Baptist University is the No. 1 seed and would host should they beat No. 4 seed Midwestern State.