Courtesy: Ilya Pinchuk (Moscow, Idaho)
There was no stopping senior Erica Hart, who scored two goals on Sunday.
Soccer clinches bid
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 10/28/2012
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MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho women’s soccer sent its 10 seniors out as winners on Sunday and in doing so, extended the season by at least one game with a 3-1 Senior Day victory over New Mexico State.

Idaho’s win clinches the team an unprecedented third Western Athletic Conference Tournament bid, where the Vandals will get a second shot against No. 3 Texas State, which beat UTSA in overtime on Sunday to clinch its spot.

The win moves Idaho to 6-13-1 overall and 3-4-1 in the WAC, while NM State falls to 2-14-3 overall and 0-7-1 in WAC play.

It was win No. 37 for the most successful four-year group in Idaho soccer history. A sophomore and two juniors combined to give Idaho a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute, then three Vandal seniors put together a perfect second strike just before half to put Idaho up 2-0.

The Vandals added another in the second half before surrendering a late goal that made things interesting, but nothing would deny the Idaho women the victory on the day.

Senior Erica Hart stole the show with a pair of scores, including the game-winner in the 40th minute that is likely to be heavily featured in the postseason highlight reel.

The score started with Megan Lopez, who juked, then casually tapped a ball down the end line – through a defender’s feet – to a streaking Jill Flockhart, who nailed a looping cross. Hart fought off a defender and found a sliver of space for a one-time header into the near corner at 39:46.

“Megan’s got foot moves for days and Jill always puts a great ball in, so I had the easy part in it,” Hart said of the score. “It was awesome.”

The second score was crucial, because after Idaho’s first score, NM State had seized momentum and control for a long stretch after Idaho’s opening goal. The Aggies put a free kick off the cross bar and had another couple close calls in the half.

On Idaho’s first score, sophomore Katie Baran placed a corner kick high and into the mixer and the six-yard box. Junior defender Chelsie Breen rose up to put a header flick on it and the deflection went right to junior defender Nitalia Zuniga, who popped it in for the score at 5:44.

Baran dished up her second assist of the game at 59:15 and when she pulled in the defense, then left off a short pass to Hart, who was unmarked at the top of the six-yard box for a free tap-in.

Of interesting historical note is that in Hart’s first career home start on Sept. 18, 2009, she scored a pair of goals in a 4-1 Idaho victory. On Sunday, in the final home start of her career, she achieved the feat again – for the second time in her career.

Baran’s two assists on the day give her a team-leading eight this year, a total that ranks third in Idaho single-season history. Flockhart’s dish on the first Hart goal moved her into sole possession of second place all-time at Idaho with 16 career assists.

Just two minutes after Hart had put the Vandals up 3-0, NM State responded with a score of its own when Layla Todd got out on the break, cut back on the Vandal defense and rolled a shot just inside the left post to make it 3-1 at 61:23.

Idaho had two more strong scoring chances in the second half, both of which NM State defenders cleared off the line for team saves. First, Breen smashed a header off a corner that was deflected barely wide, then Hart’s hat trick attempt was poked away by a defender just before it rolled into the corner.

Idaho finished the day with a 17-13 overall edge in shots and an 11-3 margin in on-target attempts. The Vandals tallied six corners to NM State’s three, while the Aggies were whistled for 11 fouls to Idaho’s five.

Idaho keeper Liz Boyden made two saves and allowed one goal in 84 minutes of play, while NM State keeper Mikaela Bitner made six stops and allowed three scores in 90 minutes.

With senior day games always being an emotional affair, Flockhart said the fact that Idaho would be eliminated with anything less than a victory actually reduced the pressure made it easier to focus.

“I really think knowing that it was a must-win game made it easier to push the emotions to the side,” Flockhart said. “I had a rough morning trying to set aside those emotions knowing it was my last home game, but showing up to the pitch knowing it was a must-win, we just went out there and got a result.”

For his seniors to end their careers with a third-consecutive WAC Tournament trip after no team before them had qualified for a conference final, Showler said it was the just reward for their impact on the program.

“From day one, they’ve stepped on the pitch and set different standards all over the place and it’s continued right way through to today,” Showler said of the seniors. “It’s just exactly what they deserve.”

The Vandals added that while they’re happy to make another tournament appearance, they’re not content just to be there. The team is also eager to face Texas State after losing a 1-0 lead in the final nine minutes of a 2-1 loss earlier this season against the Bobcats.

“We owe them one and I’m excited for the chance to get back to the tournament,” Flockhart said.

Idaho plays Texas State in the quarterfinal round of the WAC Tournament on Thurdsay, with a match time to be announced.

With all the records Idaho has broken and standards re-defined in the last four seasons, it’s hard to imagine there was anything more the 2012 seniors could have done on Sunday – but one more record did fall in the team’s final home appearance.

Sunday’s win was the 22nd home victory for Idaho’s seniors at Guy Wicks Field and just like so many of the wins before, this one brought the program another step forward and raised the stakes just a little bit more for future Vandals to strive.
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