With the band blaring and the cheer squad cheering on a chilly Thursday night at Anteater Stadium, the UCI women’s soccer team gave the fans a thrilling Big West semifinal match. With a third consecutive Big West Championship game within reach, the UCI women were unable to make it happen. The Lady ‘Eaters tied Cal State Fullerton 1-1 in regulation time and lost 3-0 in a heartbreaking penalty shootout.
Cal State Fullerton showed from the opening whistle that they came to play, scoring a goal in just the third minute of the matchup. Before most fans could even find a seat, midfielder Chelsea Patterson took the ball to the top of the box and drilled a line drive into the top right corner of the net to put the Titans up.
UCI quickly found themselves playing from behind, but after that score exhibited great defense and kept Fullerton from scoring for the rest of the game. Then, in the 33rd minute, UCI got offensive, with Jenna Pellegrino leading the break before passing to Natalia Ledezma, who left it for Laura McGrail to curl the runner inside the right post to even the score.
“That first goal by them — there’s nothing to say, that was a great goal,” McGrail would say later. “We didn’t do anything wrong. That’s just soccer. But we came back.”
The second half was much of the same back and forth as the first half, but missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Anteaters. A clank off the top post, a missed one-on-one opportunity and the overall inability to finish drives with goals kept the game tied throughout the second half. Neither team was able to mount a legitimate threat in the first or second overtime, leaving the fate of the Big West semifinal to be decided in penalty kicks.
First to shoot was the Anteaters’ Rachel Wood. The First-Team All Big West defender hit a low shot to her right, but Fullerton’s goalkeeper Katie Pulliam was right there to make the save. Fullerton would then respond with Kishi Smith, who made her penalty shot to put Fullerton up. UCI’s second and third shooters, Pellegrino and Devon Delarosa, were denied by Pullian, and that, combined with a make by Fullerton’s Chelsea Patterson, left Titan senior Stacey Fox with the opportunity to play hero. Fox took advantage of the moment, draining her penalty kick to send the Fullerton faithful into a frenzy and the UCI fans home with remorse. Fox fist-pumped with utter satisfaction before being mobbed by her teammates, while all the Anteaters looked on, probably to next season.
“This was a tough way to end. It’s not a great feeling,” McGrail said. “But I’m really proud, because we started rough and then to turn it around and get to this point with our seniors was great.”
Barring an NCAA tournament appearance, this is the end to the UCI women’s soccer season. They finish the year with an overall record of 9-8-4, and a conference record of 5-1-3.