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WSU soccer team out to break NCAA curse

A “curse,” Beau Bremer calls them, Washington State’s recent home setbacks in the first round of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament.

Two years ago, the Cougars outplayed Illinois, only to lose in a penalty kick shootout. Last year, it was Seattle that pulled out a 2-1 overtime upset.

That both losses came at WSU’s Lower Soccer Field makes the curse even worse, said Bremer, a fifth-year senior midfielder who has one more chance on Saturday.

That’s when WSU entertains Northwestern, a program that hasn’t been to the NCAAs since 1998 and has lost four of its last seven matches. By comparison, the Cougars (14-5) are in their fifth straight tournament; they’ve won three straight matches and six of their last nine.

“A goal would open the floodgates and break this curse,” Bremer predicted earlier this week as WSU began preparations for the Wildcats.

That in turn would reward fans who’ve attended WSU matches in record numbers this fall while setting a single-season record of 10,242. “We’re going to be pumped in front of our home crowd,” forward Kourtney Guetlein said.

Ironically, the Cougars have fared better on the road (9-1) than at home (5-4), but that’s the product of the competition: fellow NCAA participants Stanford, Cal, USC and Arizona all snagged nail-biting wins in Pullman.

“Those games could have gone either way,” said first-year coach Todd Shulenberger, reciting the details of each match.

Under Shulenberger, the Cougars have outscored opponents 34-18, while freshman goalkeeper Ella Dederick has a 0.93 goals-against average.

Kaitlyn Johnson leads a balanced offense with seven goals and six assists. Guetlein is right behind with six goals and four assists.

Northwestern (13-5-2 overall and 7-3-1 in the Big Ten) has been winning with defense, giving up just 11 goals in 20 matches. Up front, the Wildcats like to play the ball to tiny 5-foot-2 forward Addie Steiner, who has taken more than a quarter of their shots. Steiner has seven goals and seven assists.

If the Cougars win, they’ll face either West Virginia or Duquesne next weekend.

Whitworth in D3

Whitworth is making its ninth appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament and second straight appearance under third-year head coach Morgan Cathey.

Ranked 10th in the nation after going 16-1-1, the Pirates have high aspirations. That’s especially true for the seniors, who hope to do better than last year’s team that reached the Sweet 16.

“We’re at a the point where our guys are in a culture in the program to have our aspirations and goals get on postseason accomplishments,” Cathey said. “This team wants to get further than last year.”

The Pirates open Saturday in Dallas against 20th-ranked Redlands of California, which is back in the field for the first time in four years. The Bulldogs are 16-3-2 after winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference postseason tournament.

“They play in a strong conference, so it’ll be tough game for sure,” Cathey said. Kickoff is at 11:30 a.m. PST.

Statistically, this is one of the best teams in Whitworth history. The Pirates have outscored opponents 50 to 8, while junior goalkeeper Timmy Costa has a 0.43 goals-against average. Forward Karl Muelheims has a 31.7 percent shot-to-goal average and 20 goals.

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