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Eagle women overcome snow, Northern Colorado to win Big Sky soccer title

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 5, 2017

There were goose bumps, all right, but not from the cold.

These were the warm-and-fuzzy kind, and the entire Eastern Washington women’s soccer team felt them Sunday after beating Northern Colorado 3-0 to win their second straight Big Sky Conference title.

The Eagle seniors, the ones who helped coach Chad Bodnar build this program from doormat to champion, felt it the most.

“What a great experience this has been,” said forward Savannah Hoekstra, who scored the first goal of the afternoon on a penalty kick in the 62nd minute.

“I’m just honored to be a part of it,” Hoekstra said.

And it’s not over. The Eagles, who gave eventual champ Southern Cal a solid challenge in last year’s tournament opener, will get another chance at the NCAA College Cup.

Pairings will be announced Monday at 1:30 p.m. With a program-best 16-5-1 record and 10 wins in their 11 matches, the Eagles hope to avoid one of the top-rated teams.

But that’s for another day. On Sunday, the top-seeded Eagles had to cope not only with a solid Northern Colorado defense, but snow and cold.

With two inches of snow on the turf, officials pondered postponing the match until Monday. However, workers cleared the snow until the grass was in playable condition. Playable, but not ideal.

“We came out in a different shape not knowing how the surface would be,” Bodnar said. “We came out and played a little more conservative in the first half.”

Eastern still dominated the first half, outshooting the Bears 8 to 1 and earning seven corner kicks to none for UNC.

However, the teams were scoreless at haltime.

“We talked at halftime and said when we break the ice, we will get a couple goals,” Bodnar said.

It happened midway through the second half, when UNC defender Maddie Barkow made a poor clearance in her own penalty box. The ball fell to Hoekstra, who was well inside the box when she was tripped by Barkow.

After the official signaled for the penalty kick, the former Central Valley star pleaded to take the shot.

Wish granted, Hoekstra drilled the ball into the right side, giving keeper Madeline Burdick no chance.

Thirteen minutes later, it was Chloe Williams’ turn to take a PK. Midfielder Saige Lyons dribbled down the right side and sent a short pass into the box, where Williams was taken down just 5 yards from the goal.

Burdick guessed correctly on the penalty, but Williams’ kick curved just out of reach to make it 2-0.

The goal was the Big Sky-record 43rd for Williams, a senior from Lewis and Clark who is a three-time winner of the league’s Offensive Most Valuable Player award.

Williams also led the team Sunday with five shots, four of them on goal; that’s three more than the UNC team had all afternoon.

Three minutes later, junior midfielder Alexis Stephenson dribbled through several defenders and iced the match with the Eagles’ third goal.

The team now holds the record for most goals scored in a single season with 47. The previous record was held by the 2016 squad, which scored 44.

At the other end of the field, EWU keeper Emily Busselman needed to make only one save to preserve her ninth clean sheet this year.

“That’s what happens when everyone is doing their job,” said M’Kenna Hayes, the Eagles’ All-Big Sky defender. “We really wanted that shutout.”

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