For the third consecutive season, the Westmont women’s soccer team will advance to the championship round of the GSAC tournament following a 2-0 win over OUAZ in Thursday’s semifinal match.
“We’ve been trying to continue to work on the things that we feel like we need to do to get better and they’ve just done a really good job. This team is very focused and really enjoying each other’s company which is really important. It is just a lot of fun right now,” first-year head coach Jenny Jaggard said.
“The more you succeed the more pressure there is but we are just trying to keep it light.”
Westmont (14-2-1), the hosts of the conference tournament, will play at Thorrington Field against Vanguard. The Lions beat The Master’s in the other semifinal match on Thursday, 1-0.
Vanguard (12-2-2) was the co-regular season champions alongside Westmont, although the Warriors beat the Lions 3-0 in their regular-season matchup at home back in early October.
Coming into Thursday’s match, Westmont was riding the high of a three-match win streak that saw it beat its opponents by a combined score of 16-2.
The Warriors kept up that high energy of play on both sides of the ball, especially on the offensive side in the early part of the match.
“It’s really a lot of things (that is the reason our offense is doing so well). The general team organization has gotten better and with that comes easier passing because the team is in better spots. When you win the ball you are in better shape to keep it. As the season has progressed and the team has gotten more and more chemistry they are just figuring it out, both individually and how to work with each other,” Jaggard said.
In the game’s first 12 minutes, senior defender Kira Nemeth was eyeing a goal, taking three shots, one of which was on target and was saved by the Spirit’s goalkeeper, Krysten Caballero.
Finally, in the 13th minute, Nemeth didn’t score, but she did center a perfectly placed ball from the left which found fellow senior Maddi Berthoud.
Berthoud headed the ball with power, so much so that even though Caballero caught the ball, she fell into the back of the net for the Westmont score.
With that sequence of events, Nemeth earned her fourth assist of the year while Berthoud scored her ninth goal of the season and 40th of her career. Last season, Berthoud scored two goals in postseason play.
“It’s definitely a rare thing to see Maddi head the ball, but it was just a great ball and it was a great play to push the ball up the way we did and it all played out perfectly. It was so early that it gave us a lot of positive energy,” Jaggard said.
Just one minute later, Nemeth again played a beautiful ball into the box, and OUAZ defender tried to clear it but instead rerouted it into her own net to put Westmont up 2-0.
From there, Westmont could not find the back of the net, but that didn’t mean the team didn’t show its aggression on both sides of the ball.
For the game, the Warriors shot the ball 23 times with six of those being on target. Defensively, Westmont held OUAZ to zero shots for the whole game.
Junior goalkeeper Gabi Haw had an easy day, not having to save a single shot while earning her 11th blank sheet of the season.
The Warriors put up about 18 more shots after the two goals, but none of them went in and they didn’t need them to after the quick start.
Still, things might not be so easy on Saturday. For one, Westmont has lost in the championship game in each of the last two seasons. Last year, the team saw its season come to an end following a 3-2 loss against The Master’s and then, in 2017, Westmont lost to Vanguard in penalty kicks.
For seniors Nemeth and Berthoud along with Brooke Porter and Katelyn Merrell, Saturday will be their final shot at redemption after two stinging losses.
“It is definitely a motivating factor for our seniors and even some of our other players who have been there and felt that disappointment when it didn’t work. We try not to talk about it, but it’s in the back of their minds knowing they don’t want it to happen again, but I know they are going to be very motivated come Saturday,” Jaggard said.
Regardless of the outcome, the Warriors, ranked No. 8 in the NAIA, will advance to the NAIA tournament, but it would be a little sweeter for them if they could go in riding the high of an outright conference championship after being co-champions in the regular season.
“Our team knows that just because we beat Vanguard 3-0 doesn’t mean they aren’t a great team. They played better in the first 20 minutes and we were lucky they didn’t put anything away. This is a championship, both teams have a lot to prove and I think our girls have a lot of motivation to prove who is the better team and win a title,” Jaggard said.
Westmont will take on Vanguard at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Thorrington Field.