Visualizing success is half the battle, Eastern Washington soccer coach Chad Bodnar said this week.
Three years ago, Bodnar was at Walla Walla Community College and the Eagles were coming off a 3-15 season that included a last-place finish in the Big Sky Conference.
Now the Eagles are in their first NCAA tournament, facing seventh-ranked USC on Saturday.
Bodnar saw this coming. Really.
“Absolutely – that’s why we took the job here. We work hard and we brought in some kids who want to do the same things,” Bodnar said this week on the heels of the Eagles’ Big Sky title earned Sunday after a penalty-kick shootout against Northern Arizona.
The Eagles have won with a far-flung lineup, but also with a cadre of Spokane-area athletes. They include defender Laci Rennaker, midfielder Paige Galloway and forward Savannah Hoekstra – all from Central Valley – plus forward Chloe Williams, the Big Sky Offensive MVP who went to Lewis and Clark.
Still soaking in the moment earlier this week, Hoekstra said that the program’s success “hits close to my heart because I’m from here.”
Long-term, Bodnar hopes NCAA berth will help the Eagles win more local recruits. “Obviously there’s great talent in the GSL, the Tri-Cities and the state of Washington. We want to win the local battles if we can.”
In the meantime, there’s another soccer match to win. Eastern is 14-4-3 but will be a heavy underdog against the Pac-12 runner-up Trojans.
USC (14-4-1) is coming off a 1-0 loss to UCLA, but has given up just three goals in its last eight matches behind Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year Sammy Jo Prudhomme and Defensive Player of the Year Mandy Freeman.
For the season, USC has conceded nine goals while scoring 40. Senior Morgan Andrews is a two-time all-conference pick at midfielder.
The Trojans (8-2-1 in the Pac-12) are making their third straight NCAA appearance under Keidane McAlpine, who spent 2012 and 2013 leading Washington State to the postseason.
“Obviously we’re the underdog,” Bodnar said. “But I think our kids want to compete; they don’t want to go down there and lay down.”
Eastern is averaging just over 2.05 goals while giving up just 1.19. In three Big Sky tournament games, the Eagles gave up only one goal on a penalty kick against NAU.
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