For the second year in a row, Long Beach State travels to UC Irvine for the championship match of the Big West Women's Soccer Tournament.
The Anteaters look to avenge a 1-0 loss to the 49ers in the 2010 final. Top-seeded UCI came into the match ranked No. 11 in the country, winners of 14 straight and unbeaten in its last 17 outings, but fell to an LBSU club that it had previously defeated by the same score during the regular season. The winning sequence started on Nicole Sweetman’s corner kick, which senior Bo Rael redirected with a header to the upper left corner for the score at the 52:09 mark. Tournament MVP Emily Kingsborough made several outstanding stops to thwart a UCI comeback attempt and finished with six saves. The Anteaters held the stat advantage in shots (11-5) and shots on goal (6-3), but were shut out for the first time all season.
Once again, UCI and LBSU enter the championship as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively. And the similarities to 2010 don’t end there. The Anteaters are again Big West regular season champions. They won the regular season matchup against the 49ers, taking a 2-0 decision on Oct. 16 at Anteater Stadium. They enter the match nationally ranked in all three polls – No. 16 in Soccer America, No. 22 in Soccer Times and No. 24 in NSCAA/Continental Tire.
Will there be a different outcome this year?
No one knows. But there is sure to be an excitement and intensity to this game between two outstanding programs and rivals. The winner is the Big West's automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. The 64-team field will be announced at 1:30 p.m. (PST) on Monday at www.ncaa.com.
The game features the top three leading scorers in the Big West. Long Beach State junior Nadia Link has scored a conference-best 15 goals. She has recorded at least one point in 14 of the team’s 20 matches. LBSU is 2-3-1 when she is held scoreless. UCI limited her to two shots and no points in the Oct. 16 matchup.
Link’s production has placed her on the Big West single-season top 10 list in goals, assists and points. Her 15 goals ties for seventh all-time and is the most by a Big West player since UC Santa Barbara’s Jennifer Borcich had 15 in 2004. Link’s 10 assists are also tied for seventh all-time. Her 40 points rank fifth in Big West history and are the most by a conference player in 13 seasons. Link needs two points to surpass UCSB’s Borcich (41 points - 2002) and Cal State Fullerton’s Dolores Browning (41 – 1996) for third place.
UC Irvine counters with two double-digit goal scorers of its own. Sophomore Natalia Ledezma leads the Anteaters with 12 goals and senior Lexi Kopf is right behind with 11. Both UCI forwards have recorded hat tricks this season – Ledezma accomplishing the feat on Oct. 23 versus Cal State Northridge and Kopf duplicating the effort in UCI’s very next game against UC Riverside on Oct. 30. Prior to that, no UCI player had earned a hat trick since Nicole Bucciarelli in 1996. UCI is 9-0-1 when Ledezma scores a goal. In addition, Ledezma’s 32 points (12 goals, 8 assists) is three away from tying her for ninth in Big West single-season annals.
The matchup also features two of the top midfielders in LBSU’s Shawna Gordon and UCI’s Judy Christopher. Gordon is tied for third in the conference with 23 points (7 goals, 9 assists) and ranks second in assists. Christopher has more modest offensive numbers (4 assists), but is noted for clamping down on the other team’s most talented offensive player.
Long Beach State is the Big West’s top offensive club with 45 goals and UC Irvine is second with 37. The Anteaters have allowed the fewest goals (17) with the 49ers (18) nearly as stingy. And the two goalkeepers – LBSU’s Kaitlyn Gustaves and UCI’s Jennifer Randazzo – own an identical 0.89 goals against average.
Tickets for Sunday’s championship match at noon in Anteater Stadium are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Please call the UCI ticket office at (949) 824-5000 for more information or click here.