As measuring sticks go, this is hard to beat.
The fast-rising Eastern Washington women’s soccer team is back in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, with a better record, a better seed and a lot of momentum.
The Eagles’ reward is rematch Saturday at noon against the same USC program that beat them 3-1 a year ago.
“It was an interesting pairing …. But it’s not the worst scenario, by any means,” said Eastern coach Chad Bodnar, whose team returns to the same field on Los Angeles where the Trojans started their drive to the NCAA title.
But as Bodnar points out, this isn’t the same USC team. The Trojans graduated eight starters, including four who play professionally.
Meanwhile, the 14th-seeded Eagles (16-5-1) have won 10 of their last 11 and are playing their best when it matters most.
Will that be enough?
“We definitely have to play our best game,” senior forward Lexi Klinkenberg said. “We have to play super hard on defense, make sure everything is locked down make sure our forwards can score.”
That hasn’t been a problem for Eastern, which led the Big Sky Conference in shots (386), points (128), goals (47), goals per game (2.14), assists (33), assists per game (1.5) and corners (145).
Senior forward Chloe Williams led the conference in shots with 97 and shots per game with 4.41.
At the other end of the field, goalkeeper Emily Busselman has seven shutouts. A year after playing for Community Colleges of Spokane, the senior from Richland is living a dream come true.
“It’s a fantastic to be a part of this,” Busselman said.
Eastern may have more experience, but the third-seeded Trojans (14-3-1) are close to the same elite level as last year’s squad. They finished second (8-2-1) in the Pac-12, which sent seven teams to the tournament.
USC is led by forward Alex Anthony, who has recorded seven goals and two assists. In goal for most of the season was Kaylie Collins, who has a 13-3-1 record.