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Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Moscow, Idaho)
Chelsie Breen
Soccer clinches WAC berth
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 10/23/2011
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MOSCOW, Idaho – It took a battle, but the Idaho women’s soccer team put away Nevada on Sunday and clinched a second-consecutive Western Athletic Conference Tournament bid with a 2-1 victory at Guy Wicks Field.

Sophomore Bailey Hewitt’s 81st-minute goal proved the deciding factor after a long-range free kick goal by Nevada knotted the game at 1-1 in the 69th minute. The win puts Idaho at 7-9-3 overall and 3-3-1 in the WAC, while Nevada slips to 3-14 and 1-4 in conference play.

Under the WAC scoring system, the three points for Sunday’s victory gives Idaho 10 points in the standings. Paired with the Louisiana Tech loss on Sunday, Idaho’s win guarantees that the Vandals can finish no worse than sixth in the conference.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but the thing is that we’ve battled through,” Idaho junior forward Chelsea Small said. “We knew today that this was in our own hands, so we came out and gave it everything we had for the full 90.”

In addition to the postseason implications, the game was an emotional one for the Vandals because of the Senior Day celebration for defender Alison Page, affectionately nicknamed “Larry” by her teammates.

“I was just looking for somebody to hug,” Hewitt said of her game-winner. “Larry works her tail off for this program and she’s helped it grow from where it was to where it is now, and I’m so happy we could get the win today – that goal was for her.”

Small got the Vandals on the board first in the 37th minute with an unassisted goal after corralling a pass in, poking the ball away from a defender, then sneaking a rolling bank shot through the defense and off the left post for her 10th goal of the year.

Small also played a part in Hewitt’s game-winner when she took a throw from junior defender Lauren Layton in the box and headed it perfectly backward and over the top of the defense to an open Hewitt right in front of goal for the finish.

The second goal came after multiple exasperating near-chances for Idaho, including one header goal that was called off after contact with the Nevada keeper, two close-range one-timers that were saved and another rebound shot that hit the crossbar.

“We played with more passion and commitment after we conceded the goal,” Showler said. “One shot hit the bar and one was disallowed, but we kept going after them, and then one dropped perfectly for Bailey. It showed a lot of grit and determination, and that was what we needed today.”

Idaho outshot Nevada, 16-12 overall and 9-6 on goal. The Vandals also held a 4-0 advantage in corners. The Wolf Pack was whistled offside six times to Idaho’s four. Nevada keeper Dana Moreno made seven saves along with the two goals, while Vandal junior keeper Caroline Towles allowed one goal and stopped five shots.

Showler said that with both teams needing a win for WAC Tournament consideration that the team expected the Wolf Pack to push the pace, and while Nevada sent a lot forward, he was proud of the way the Idaho defense maintained its composure.

“Nevada pushed to four forwards – they knew they had to get something out of the game, and with a strong wind behind them, it was an effective tactic, but we dealt with it,” Showler said. “The back line was tremendous today, and everybody defended like demons. They made it difficult on us, but I was just proud of how our girls responded.”

While the WAC slate is now finished, that doesn’t mean all the important games are over. The Governor’s Cup is on the line next weekend when Idaho travels to Boise State for a Saturday match against the Broncos. Since both teams beat Idaho State earlier this year, it’s a true winner-take-all scenario for the Cup, but in the event of a draw, the Vandals would retain the crown based on their better goal differential.

Idaho is trying to become the first team in 13-year Cup history to take the crown in three consecutive seasons.

“We want to prepare ourselves well for the conference tournament, and there’s no better way than going down there on the back of today’s performance,” Showler said. “Boise State wants to win as much as we do, but we’ve just got to work harder than them to get it.

“It would be great to get a hat trick of Governor’s Cups on the bounce.”

Saturday’s match kicks off at 11 a.m. (PDT) at Boise State’s Boas Soccer Complex.

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