Junior midfileder Nicole Vanni was once again the hero for the SF State women’s soccer team. Her goal in the 76 minute gave the Gators a 1-0 victory in a tightly contested match with Sonoma State University on Sunday at Cox Stadium.
The goal was Vanni’s fifth in the last three games and her seventh for the season. Vanni now leads the California Collegiate Athletic Association in goals scored. Five of her goals have been game winners.
“These girls just have a way of coming in above and beyond at the end of games,” said assistant coach Stephanie Wieger.
SF State entered the game on a high kick, having won their last two games by a combined 5-0 score.
Sonoma State posed a tough test. The Seawolves were riding a three-game win streak coming in to Sunday.
Both teams entered the game with an identical 3-1-1 record in CCAA play. The Gators defense, which had shut out all but one opponent entering the game, was tested by a potent Seawolves attack that had averaged 1.3 goals-per-game before Sunday.
The teams entered halftime scoreless. The Seawolves were by far the more threatening team in the opening 45 minutes. Sonoma State had a handful of strong scoring chances, but was unable to break the final level of the Gator defense.
The first threat of the match came in a corner by Sonoma forward Sara Studer. Studer sent a curving cross into the box, which senior goalkeeper Annicia Jones was forced to punch away into a crowd of players. The Gators were able to be the first to get a touch on the loose ball and clear danger.
Studer, the Seawolves’ assist expert, later set up forward Taylor Edmonds for a header which Jones, flailing, was only able to get a fingertip to and send over the crossbar.
The Gators mustered just a few half chances in the first half, with none developing into a true scoring opportunity.
“I think we just gave them too much respect in that first half,” Wieger said.
The Seawolves tested the stout Gator defense, which recorded its seventh shut out in eight games. This feat was made more impressive by the fact that defensive captain and center back Lauren Duran missed much of the second half with a bloody nose after catching an elbow on a corner kick in the 40 minute.
None of the Gators were willing to say that the elbow was deliberate, but the play awoke what had been a somewhat uninspired SF State team thus far. The sight of Duran walking off the field, blood pouring from her face, inspired the team as a whole.
“We said ‘no more of this.’ They were kind of going at us quite a bit in the first half. That was the punctuation mark. It’s stopping here,” Vanni said.
Things turned around in the second half. SF State became the aggressor. The Gators were able to gain possession in the forward third of the field and put the Sonoma defense on its back foot a number of times while limiting chances on the other end.
“Everyone just stepped up their game as a whole,” said sophomore defender Kaitlin Dick. “You don’t hit someone on our team and get away with it, so you’ve got to punish the other team and we did that as a team.”
As the second half wore on, the Gators began to employ a tactic that has been successful for them all year. The SF State forwards pressed the Sonoma defenders when they had possession, hoping to pressure them into mistakes.
“We just put high pressure the entire second half and they started coughing up balls left and right. They didn’t even know what to do,” said Vanni.
This tactic paid off in the 76 minute when the pressure forced a blunder from a Seawolf defender. Freshman midfielder Elizet Ceja gained possession of a stolen clearance. She then tapped a pass to Vanni who used two dribbled to gain space at the left side of the goal box and fired a left-footed shot into the goal from 20 yards out.
“If there’s even a half an inch just shoot, we’ve been stressing that since day one. I figured what the heck? Just shoot,” Vanni said.
After the goal, Vanni ran directly to Duran on the sidelines to show support to her captain.
With just a few minutes left to play, the Gators controlled the majority of possession never allowing the Seawolves to mount a scoring threat. Jones was steady under pressure all afternoon. Jones stomped out the last scoring chance by Sonoma with a spectacular diving punch to clear a free kick from Studer.
SF State ends the week on a three-game winning streak. They look to continue their great play when they face Cal State L.A. on Friday.