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Cougar women knocked out of NCAAs on penalty kicks

PULLMAN – It dominated for long stretches, outshot Illinois nearly 3-to-1, had the would-be winning goal wiped away by offsides – and still, the Washington State women’s soccer team lost on Saturday.

The defeat would have been painful regardless of the circumstances. But this one came on penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA tournament – a repeat of last season’s season-ending loss – which made it all the more heartbreaking for the 21st-ranked Cougars.

WSU and Illinois played to a 0-0 standstill in brutally cold, muddy conditions for 110 minutes – 90 minutes of regular time and two 10-minute overtimes – before the Illini won 3-1 on penalty kicks in front of several hundred fans at the Lower Soccer Field.

“Losing period hurts,” Washington State coach Keidane McAlpine said. “Losing in PKs after you felt like you’ve done enough to win the game hurts a little bit more. But at the same time, from the coach’s perspective, we had players that tried to win the game. They left everything out there. I can’t be disappointed in that.

“There’s nothing left for them – they left it out there.”

The Cougars (14-3-4) tied the school record for wins and hosted an NCAA match for the first since 2000. To get ready for the game, a crew of volunteers cleared about 3 inches of fresh snow off of the field early Saturday morning.

“It was a game that you knew going into it wasn’t going to be the prettiest soccer game,” Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said.

After missing several choice opportunities to score in the first half, WSU lost leading scorer and Pac-12 MVP Micaela Castain to an apparent knee injury. The senior forward didn’t return after halftime, and the Cougs’ offense suffered as a result.

Castain had accounted for 11 of WSU’s 37 goals and 11 of its 38 assists, both Pac-12 highs. With her gone, the team’s scoring chances dried up early in the second half.

Yet WSU found its footing in the mud and scrounged for 29 shots, its most since 2003. The Cougs also had 11 shots on goal compared to just one for the Illini (10-8-3)

“It’s one of those games where we just need to see the ball hit the net,” said McAlpine, in his second season. “And today wasn’t the day. … I thought our team was absolutely fantastic.”

Illinois freshman keeper Claire Wheatley set a career high with 11 saves. The one ball that got past her, from WSU freshman Kaitlyn Johnson in the first overtime, didn’t count because Johnson was offsides.

Wheatley was even stronger during the shootout. She stopped two penalty kicks with full-body lunges, and after Nicole Setterlund’s kick went over the crossbar for a third WSU miss, Illinois senior standout Vanessa DiBernardo clinched the win by finding the net.

This was the third straight season WSU went to penalty kicks in the opening round of the NCAAs. It beat Kentucky in 2011 and lost to Portland last year.