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Eastern women cherish first conference win

George Hageage admits earlier would have been better.

Still, Eastern Washington’s head women’s soccer coach wasn’t about to throw back his young team’s first Big Sky Conference win of the year, which came on the road – and in convincing fashion – against Weber State last Saturday.

“It would have been great to have seen of lot of this earlier,” Hageage said of the way the Eagles (2-11-0 overall, 1-4-0 Big Sky) played in handing the Wildcats (5-9-1, 3-1-1) their first conference loss. “But I think it was just part of the learning curve and learning process for a lot of our younger players.”

With 11 freshmen and two other first-year players on his roster, Hageage expected his team to endure some growing pains, and it has, having picked up its other win against Evergreen State in mid-September.

But the five consecutive BSC defeats the Eagles suffered after knocking off the NAIA Geoducks 4-0 were all single-goal losses. And Saturday’s effort against Weber State was so dominant that Eastern swept the league’s player-of-the week awards, with senior forward Whitney Brannan being named Offensive MVP and junior goalkeeper Jamie Walker being named co-Defensive MVP.

Brannan scored one goal and assisted on the other two against the Wildcats, while Walker turned back 12 shots on goal, earned her second career shutout and raised her conference-leading saves percentage to .818.

“In sports, it’s easy for winning and losing to become habits,” Hageage said. “And us losing so many one-goal games – not just during our latest stretch, but throughout the season – was just ridiculous. So, for us to go to Weber State and put three in the back of the net just felt like a fitting culmination of everything we’ve been working so hard on all season.

“It just gives our players a huge boost of confidence. Now, instead of just thinking they can do it, they know they can do it.”

WSU seniors out in style

Washington State didn’t get the victory it coveted on Senior Day last Friday.

But the 0-0 draw the 24th-ranked Cougars earned against visiting and fourth-ranked Pacific-12 Conference rival UCLA still gave the record-setting Lower Soccer Field crowd of 1,652 plenty to appreciate. And it moved WSU (10-4-2, 4-1-1 Pac-12) into sole possession of second place, behind unbeaten Stanford (14-0-1, 6-0-0), in the conference standings.

“Our defending starts with our forwards,” Cougars coach Matt Potter said in the wake of his team’s seventh shutout. “All the way through the team, midfielders and backs did a good job of not giving them clear shots on goal.”

The tie with UCLA was WSU’s second against a fourth-ranked team this season. The Cougars also drew 0-0 with then-fourth-ranked Virginia on Sept. 9.

“The crowd was the best we’ve ever had here,” said midfielder Jacquelyn Roth, one of just three seniors to make their final regular-season home appearance for WSU on Friday. “Of course, we wanted to win, but holding them through overtime – with as much as they came at us with in the second half – means a lot.”

The Cougars, who set single-season records for total home attendance (6,850) and average home attendance (856) will play the first of five remaining road games on their regular-season schedule Friday night against Oregon State.

Small a force for UI

Chelsea Small’s numbers are down a bit from last fall, but Idaho’s record-setting junior forward showed again last weekend just how explosive she can be in the Vandals’ 1-1 draw at New Mexico State on Friday and 1-0 road win over Louisiana Tech on Sunday.

Small, who was named the WAC’s Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore last fall, scored on a free kick against NMSU and headed in the only goal in UI’s win over Louisiana Tech, running her season totals to nine goals and 21 points and earning WAC player-of-the-week honors in the process.

“They were both phenomenal goals,” Vandals coach Pete Showler said of Small’s effort. “The free kick was a tremendous dipping shot, then the header was just a bullet. So it was two quality goals, but more importantly, it was two goals at crucial times.”

The two goals improved Small’s career school records to 30 goals, 21 winning goals and 71 points.

Corner kicks

Gonzaga’s men (4-7-2, 2-3-1 in the West Coast Conference), who lost at Saint Mary’s 3-0 last Friday, are in the midst of a rare 12-day late-season layoff and don’t play again until Oct. 26, when they travel to Portland. … Whitworth’s men (9-3-1 overall) are alone in second place in the Northwest Conference with a 7-2 record. The Pirates’ two conference losses have come by identical 1-0 scores to first-place Pacific Lutheran (11-2, 8-1). …Community Colleges of Spokane’s women (11-2-0, 8-1-0, who are alone in second place in the East Division of the NWAACC, will try to bounce back from their first defeat – a 5-1 home loss to division-leading Walla Walla (13-0-1, 9-0-0) last weekend – this afternoon at 1, when the Sasquatch host Yakima Valley at Spokane Falls Community College.

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