Vikings To Play For NCAA Title After 2-1 Semifinal Win
Western Washington took a 2-1 win over Columbus State in its semifinal round in front of a large contingent of WWU fans.
Western Washington took a 2-1 win over Columbus State in its semifinal round in front of a large contingent of WWU fans.

Friday, December 2, 2022

SEATTLE, Wash. – The Vikings will play for a national championship in their own backyard.

Western Washington University defeated Columbus State University 2-1 in the NCAA Division II Women's Soccer National Semifinal in front of a pro-Western crowd of 645 fans Thursday night in near-freezing temperatures at Interbay Stadium.

Sophomore Sophie Bearden Croft scored a pair of goals - her first two of the season - and the Vikings limited the No. 1 scoring team in the nation to only a late second-half goal for the victory to improve to 18-2-4 on the season.

No. 3 seed WWU will play No. 1 nationally-ranked West Chester Saturday at 3 pm in the national championship game at Interbay Stadium, just 90 miles south of Bellingham. The Vikings will be playing in their third national championship game, winning the title in Kansas City in 2016 and finishing runner-up in 2019 in Pittsburgh.

"It was a great match between two big-time teams," said Western Washington head coach Travis Connell. "I've got to give a lot of credit to Columbus State. They pushed us to the limit. They really dominated the first half, to be honest, and we stayed alive. We regrouped in the locker room and really challenged each other. We knew what we had to do in the second half and I'm really proud of how we turned the game in our favor. It wasn't so much tactics, but it was winning battles. Some people stepped up big time."

After a scoreless first half with both teams testing each other in the midfield, the Vikings struck first just over three minutes into the second half. Senior Dayana Diaz intercepted a pass and weaved through the CSU defense to the box. Playing in her 100th career game as a Viking to set the program record, the veteran laid the ball off to Bearden Croft on the right side of the box, who sliced a right-footed shot off the inside of the far left post and into the back of the net for her first goal of the season.

WWU played add-on early in the 76th minute with Bearden Croft recording the brace with an important insurance goal. Senior All-American Tera Ziemer controlled the ball at the top of the 18-yard box and found freshman sensation Morgan Manalili on the right side of the box. Manalili made a move past her defender and threaded a pass into the six-yard box where Bearden Croft buried it from close quarters to give Western the two-goal advantage.

"Those two balls from Dayana and Morgan were absolutely perfect," Bearden Croft said in the postgame news conference. "I didn't have to do much. They played me perfect balls."

Columbus State (20-3-1) cut the deficit to one goal in the 85th minute when the No. 1 scoring team in the nation (entered averaging 3.87 goals per game) found the back of the net with just under six minutes remaining in the contest. WWU's defense held off the Cougars down the stretch to advance to the national championship game.

WWU out-shot Columbus State 19-10, including a game-changing 15-3 advantage in the second half. The Cougars controlled possession in the first half with a 7-4 lead in shots, but WWU's second-half adjustments proved to be the difference in the tightly-contested match.