PULLMAN – It was a familiar story Saturday as Washington State defeated Montana 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Division I women’s soccer championship.
With the win, the Cougars (14-2-4) advance to meet Tennessee in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Friday.
The last time the Grizzlies came to Pullman, in 2018, they were on the wrong end of a 5-1 decision that knocked them out of the postseason. Montana has improved since then and Saturday’s victory wasn’t assured until the 79th minute.
“We were in complete control,” WSU head coach Todd Shulenberger said. “I knew once one (went in) that we could get a couple more.”
Having conceded only 11 goals all season, WSU was in no mood for charity.
Nadia Cooper, who was Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year, had little to do. Up front, most of the attacking threat came from set pieces with the Cougars – bigger, faster, and better organized – winning the majority of their aerial duels.
A corner kick inside the first 3 minutes produced WSU’s first goal-bound header, followed 2 minutes later by a fierce drive that fizzed just over the crossbar.
It was a clear statement of intent and, from the Griz perspective, an ominous portent of things to come.
Outmuscled and outplayed for the first 15 minutes, Montana gradually grew into the game.
The Griz mounted longer, increasingly dangerous attacks and could have taken the lead in the 25th minute when a loose ball trickled through a scrum of defenders and a Montana player clanked her shot off the post. It was against the run of play and the Cougars, duly warned, took control again.
WSU’s fifth-year senior Elyse Bennett forced a spectacular diving save from Montana goalkeeper Camellia Xu in the 30th minute.
From the ensuing series of corner kicks, the Cougars bared their teeth. Bennet hit the post, followed by a strong shot by sophomore forward Alyssa Gray that skimmed off the Montana crossbar.
WSU finally opened the scoring in the 37th minute when senior Mykiaa Minniss launched a long free kick that sophomore Marin Whieldon rose to meet at the far post with a powerful header.
Montana didn’t fold, but it didn’t threaten as the half wore down.
WSU continued to dominate in the second half. Senior Sydney Studer nodded a free kick onto the post 10 minutes after the interval.
With the Griz stretched thin chasing an equalizer, WSU attacked Montana’s goal. Bennett, Margie Detrizio, and MacKenzie Frimpong-Ellertson were a constant threat.
Shulenberger’s nerves were finally settled in the 79th minute when fifth-year senior Sydney Pulver knocked in a penalty kick following a foul on Studer.
Two goals up and comfortably in control, junior Grayson Lynch rounded out the scoring in the 83rd minute as she comfortably picked her spot following a slick exchange of passes.
“As a team, we just go through it together and we find a way to get a goal,” Whieldon said.
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