No. 1 Seed Seattle Pacific Through To Championship
Chloe Gellhaus controls the ball during the first GNAC Championships semifinal at Harrington Field in Bellingham, Wash.
Chloe Gellhaus controls the ball during the first GNAC Championships semifinal at Harrington Field in Bellingham, Wash.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A pair of goals in a five-minute span late in the first half was enough to send the top-seeded Seattle Pacific Falcons through to the GNAC Championships final with a 2-1 win over No. 4 seed Simon Fraser.

Junior midfielder Chloe Gellhaus and senior midfielder Claire Neder scored in the 28th and 33rd minutes, respectively, to give the Falcons a two-goal cushion they would not relinquish. Both were assisted by senior forward Sophia Chilczuk, who now has a GNAC-leading 15 on the season.

Freshman Annika Gross pulled one back for SFU in the 78th minute, and Simon Fraser ramped up efforts to press in search of an equalizer, but never seriously threatened Riley Travis’s goal. Seattle Pacific outshot Simon Fraser 16-4 for the game, and put five attempts on target to SFU’s two.

The Falcons, who were the GNAC’s top-scoring offense in the regular season with 54 goals, started brightly after the opening whistle. Junior right back Marissa Bankey found her way forward frequently in the first half and had the match’s first real chance by sending a cross over the bar from close range in the seventh minute. Bankey then recorded the match’s first shot on goal in the 11th minute which SFU goalkeeper Nicole Anderson parried away for a corner.

Simon Fraser answered with their first shot on target two minutes later, when sophomore forward Giuliana Zaurrini got on the end of a free kick, forcing Travis to deflect for a corner.

The Falcons kept it in Simon Fraser’s end for most of the first half. Chilczuk had a chance in the 21st minute after winning possession from an SFU defender, but shot wide across goal. Neder had a half-volley opportunity in the 24th minute but put her shot well over the bar.

The breakthrough for the Falcons came in the 28th minute. Chilczuk did most of the work, earning the ball in the corner and evading three defenders before whipping in a cross to the near post that found Gellhaus, who flicked a header into the top left corner past a diving Anderson. It was Gellhaus’s fifth goal of the year. She also has five assists.

Five minutes later, Seattle Pacific found the net again. Again, it was Chilczuk who took the ball down the right flank and sent in a low cross. Neder and a Simon Fraser defender simultaneously hit the ball from five yards out and Anderson had no chance from point-blank range. Neder now has four goals on the season along with seven assists, which ranks second in the GNAC behind Chilczuk.

Seattle Pacific looked to be in complete control at the halftime whistle, outshooting Simon Fraser 10-2 in the first 45 minutes. In the second half, however, the top-four defense that Simon Fraser relied on to get to the Championships asserted themselves.

Despite the deficit, Simon Fraser put numbers behind the ball and concentrated on constricting space for SPU’s offense before trying to hit the Falcons on the counter-attack. Because of this, the Falcons dominated possession, holding the ball for 63% of the match. The Falcons defense also dominated in the air and controlled attempted clearances in order to prevent any offensive momentum for Simon Fraser. In particular, defender Madison Ibale, fresh off being named the GNAC Defensive Player of the Year, excelled at winning the ball all afternoon for SPU.

The Falcons continued to have offensive chances as they sought to open up the match in the second half. Chilczuk forced a relatively easy save from Anderson with a shot through several defenders in the 56th minute. Gellahus started a creative offensive sequence with a lifted ball over the top to freshman forward Lauren Forster, who rounded a defender and crossed in to Chilczuk at the back post, only for the senior to volley over the bar.

Simon Fraser suddenly halved the deficit in the 78th minute when freshman Annika Gross lifted a looping shot from near the top of the box. Travis leaped and punched the ball, but didn’t get enough on it to send it over the bar, and the ball landed in the net behind her. It was Gross’s first goal of her collegiate career after previously tallying two assists.

After getting on the board, Simon Fraser tried to press Seattle Pacific farther up the pitch, but the No. 1 seed showed their composure and kept hold of the ball for much of the final ten minutes to effectively run out the clock.

The Falcons await the winner of the nightcap between No. 2 Western Washington and No. 3 Northwest Nazarene. The Vikings and Nighthawks split their two regular season meetings.