WSU soccer team turns focus to NCAA tournament
It’s time to push the reset button, says Washington State women’s soccer coach Keidane McAlpine.
It’s been quite a week for the Cougars – including top Pac-12 honors for McAlpine and forward Micaela Castain – and he doesn’t want it to end on an off note in today’s first-round NCAA tournament match against Illinois.
“I think this group is focused, they’re ready to play again, and now it’s a matter of harnessing it back into the process,” said McAlpine, whose 21st-ranked Cougars will face the Illini today at 1 p.m. at the Lower Soccer Field.
“We’re going to be locking into the things that got us here,” said McAlpine, who was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year after guiding WSU (14-3-3, 7-3-1 Pac-12) to a second-place finish behind UCLA.
The Illini (10-8-2, 5-5-1 Big Ten) are unranked, but come from a rugged conference that’s ranked second in RPI and present a solid back line, McAlpine said.
The NCAA invite is WSU’s third straight, and first at home since 2000. The winner will advance to a second-round match against either Seattle or seventh-ranked Portland.
The Cougars, who opened the season unbeaten (7-0-3) before struggling in October, are hitting their stride. WSU won five straight conference matches for the first time in eight years, including road victories against Arizona and Arizona State, home wins over No. 21 California and No. 6 Stanford and a win at Washington.
Castain – the conference MVP – led the Pac-12 in goals and assists, with 11 of each. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Gurveen Clair leads the Pac-12 with a school-record 12 shutouts and registered a school-record 14 wins.
Strength at both ends of the field has been the biggest breakthrough for McAlpine, who inherited a defensive-minded program when he arrived from Auburn in 2012.
“We really feel like the offensive game holds up the defensive side,” said McAlpine, known as offensive-minded coach. “This team has now bought in to the fact that they can do both,” McAlpine said.
Tickets are on sale at wsucougars.com. Prices are $7 (adults), $3 (students, youth 3-18, seniors 65 and over). The first 500 students will be admitted free. Tickets are also available at Lower Soccer Field (cash or check only) beginning at 11:30 a.m. today. … WSU’s senior class has won 45 matches, tied for the best record by a four-year group in Cougars history. … WSU has won 18 straight matches and is undefeated in its last 24 meetings in Pullman against unranked nonconference opponents. … Cougars and Illini have met once before with Illinois earning a 2-1 victory at Knoxville, Tenn., during the 2008 season.