Falcons Top Vikings To Reach NCAA Quarterfinals
Madison Ibale lifts the NCAA West Regional trophy as SPU players celebrate reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Madison Ibale lifts the NCAA West Regional trophy as SPU players celebrate reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Claire Neder (white) scored the match's opening goal on a penalty kick in the 12th minute and assisted on SPU's second goal.
Claire Neder (white) scored the match's opening goal on a penalty kick in the 12th minute and assisted on SPU's second goal.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

DALLAS, Texas – Seattle Pacific advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship, vanquishing conference rivals Western Washington for the fourth time this season with a 2-1 victory in the West Regional final.  

Claire Neder scored a penalty kick in the 12th minute and forward Sophie Beadle finished off an excellent team move in the 52nd minute to get the Falcons off and running. Jenna Killman scored in the 72nd minute for Western Washington and the last ten minutes were dominated by the Vikings pushing forward and threatening to equalize, but the second goal never came. Western Washington’s season comes to an end with a 15-5-3 overall record, with four of those losses at the hands of SPU.

Seattle Pacific had a history of jumping on the Vikings early, scoring within the first 1:32 of the past two match-ups with Western Washington. Once again, the Falcons wasted no time driving into the box off the opening kick-off, but midfielder and GNAC Player of the Year Makena Rietz mishit a volley attempt 37 seconds in.

The Falcons committed to a high press to attempt to force WWU into mistakes while playing out of the back, and that’s exactly what happened in the 12th minute. Vikings goalkeeper Natalie Dierickx received a backpass from Katie Watt but was quickly pressured by SPU’s Beadle and Sophia Chilczuk. Dierickx attempted to dribble out of trouble, but a heavy touch allowed Beadle to knock the ball away, and Dierickx’s sliding attempt to regain possession upended Beadle inside the box, leading to a foul call and a penalty kick being awarded.

Neder, a senior midfielder out of Spokane, Washington, stepped up to the spot and sent Dierickx the wrong way to give SPU the lead. Neder has five goals and nine assists this season and has converted 2 of 2 penalty kick attempts.

Both teams showed a willingness to get up and down the pitch. Dierickx and her SPU counterpart Riley Travis were forced to make saves within 30 seconds of one another in the 22nd minute. Unlike previous encounters where the Falcons dominated play at their offensive end, the Vikings made Travis have a busy morning, making four saves in the first half alone.

Each team had seven shots at halftime, with four shots on goal. Neder and Beadle had two shots on goal apiece for the Falcons, while WWU’s Darby Doyle had a game-high three shots at the break.

Once play resumed, it didn’t take long for SPU to find the net again. GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Madison Ibale tracked down a Western Washington clearance and sent the ball up the left flank to Neder, who passed into the center for midfielder Chloe Gellhaus, who found herself surrounded by Vikings defenders. Smartly, Gellhaus turned and made a left-footed pass into open space on the right-hand side for Beadle to run onto. The sophomore went back across goal through the legs of a Vikings defender for her finish and the ball found the bottom left corner for Beadle’s eighth goal of the year.

Seattle Pacific continued trying to push forward for more. In the 61th minute, Falcons defender Marissa Bankey engineered a give-and-go off a throw-in and fired a shot that required Dierickx to leave her feet to punch away. A minute later, Gellhaus brought down an attempted clearance with her chest and fired over the bar from 20 yards out.

Then, somewhat out of nowhere, the Vikings pulled a goal back. After a Seattle Pacific foul near the touchline at midfield, Vikings defender Makenzie Burks placed a perfect ball into the space between the Falcons’ high defensive line and Travis, who didn’t come out of her net. Killman got a flick on it to put the ball into the bottom corner for her conference-leading 14th goal of the season.

Burks was dangerous all game long on set pieces, particularly on long throw-ins in which she frequently heaved balls into the six-yard box all the way from the touch line.

The goal breathed new life into Western Washington, and they were the much more dangerous team in the game’s final minutes. In the 80th minute, a Burks throw was headed up in the air twice before falling to Killman, whose shot was tipped away expertly by a diving Travis. On the ensuing corner kick, Vikings midfielder and GNAC Newcomer of the Year Tera Ziemer’s shot was cleared off the line by Falcons midfielder Rylee Pierce.

After that close call, Seattle Pacific became focused on maintaining possession and running down the clock. Chilczuk, the GNAC Tournament MVP and the Division II leader with 17 assists this season, had a quiet afternoon overall but effectively iced the game by keeping possession in the corner for nearly 30 seconds, eluding both Watt and Burks on her own. After 90 minutes, each team finished with 13 shots, with SPU placing eight on target to WWU’s seven. Both goalkeepers ended up making six saves.

The Falcons are now unbeaten in 15 games with 10 consecutive victories. With the victory, SPU is one win away from their first Final Four appearance since they reached it three times in four years from 2005-08, culminating in a national title in the 2008 season. They will face either No. 5 Dallas Baptist on their home pitch or No. 9 UC-Colorado Springs. The national semifinals and finals will be held in Colorado Springs, so the Mountain Lions would be an incredibly motivated opponent should they advance.