The Gonzaga women’s soccer team continued its historic season with another unprecedented accomplishment.
For the first time in program history, the Zags have won an NCAA Tournament game.
The Bulldogs struck early, then held on for a 1-0 victory over the visiting Idaho Vandals on Saturday evening in front of a record crowd at Luger Field.
“We’re just starting this climb,” Gonzaga coach Chris Watkins said.
It’s been a month to remember for the Zags (14-3-2), who claimed their first West Coast Conference title last week. Gonzaga, making its second appearance in the national tourney – and first since 2005 – was then picked to host an NCAA Tournament game for the first time.
A stadium-record 1,874 fans braved the cold weather Saturday, and the home team had a hot start.
The Bulldogs went on the attack immediately and earned a free-kick opportunity in the 16th minute. Forward Marissa Garcia delivered a scoring strike – “a brilliant shot,” Watkins noted – from about 20 yards out, putting the ball just above Idaho goalkeeper Kira Witte’s outstretched arms.
“I felt confident in myself,” Garcia said. “I’d been working on (those shots). When I hit it, it was like, ‘Wow, this is an amazing feeling.’ ”
The Vandals (12-5-2) struggled to cross midfield for most of the first half as the Zags controlled possession. Idaho had a couple of scoring chances late in the half, but the Bulldogs’ defense held up.
The Zags hunted shots aggressively for the first half of the second period, attempting eight in the first 10 minutes.
“When we kept the ball, that’s what kept our energy going,” Gonzaga defender Grace Courter said. “When they counterpressed us, we did a good job of keeping wide and forcing errors. … We did a really good job of staying composed and, when we got the ball, being calm. I think that’s what eventually deflated Idaho’s press.”
The Vandals got their best scoring opportunity in the 73rd minute, but Margo Schoesler’s attempt missed just to the left of the net. The Zags played a successful game of keep-away for the remainder of the match.
Gonzaga put steady pressure on Idaho’s defense and didn’t surrender many chances to the Vandals’ attack. The Bulldogs outshot the visitors 16-5 (6-2 on goal) and attempted six corner kicks against three for the Vandals.
“Idaho is a good team. They’re really disciplined defensively and it was hard to find space,” Watkins said. “We expect to score three or four goals a game, but when your opponent is that disciplined, it’s sometimes hard.”
It was a commendable defensive effort from the Vandals, considering Gonzaga entered the game as the No. 5 scoring team in the nation.
“We knew it was going to be tough, coming in here with a very good attacking team,” Vandals coach Jeremy Clevenger said. “For us to really only give up one goal on a set-piece kick was impressive. … At the end of the day, I’m really proud of our performance.”
Idaho’s season may be over, but the program still has much to celebrate. The Vandals won their first Big Sky title and made their NCAA tourney debut.
Gonzaga advances to face UC Irvine on Friday in Lincoln, Nebraska. Additional game details will be revealed at a later date.