Women’s soccer advances to the conference semifinals after surviving a dramatic penalty shootout with Cal State San Marcos on Oct. 30.
Despite neither team scoring a goal in the 110 minutes of regulation and overtime, both teams suffered an injury to a key player. In the ninth minute, CSUSM Sophomore goalkeeper Yesenia Betancourt was struck in the face and did not return. Instead, Junior Bailey Cockrill entered the game for the Cougars. Leading SF State goal scorer, Tami Kwong, collided hard with Cockrill in the second half. Kwong walked off the field under her own power and did not play the rest of the game. She was replaced by Freshman forward Emily Kaleal.
The Gators elected to go first in the penalty shootout. Both teams converted their first penalty kick, Sophomore defender Janessa Staab scored for the Gators and Junior defender Jessica Harloe scored for the Cougars. Each team missed their next three penalty kicks, and SF State goalkeeper Nicki Rucki had to make a diving save on the second shot to keep the game tied at 1-1.
Both teams scored the fourth penalty kick. Junior defender Kelsie Bozart made the goal for SF State and Jessica Moreno scored for CSUSM. Again, both teams missed their next three shots, until Senior forward Marriah Perez stepped up for the Gators’ ninth penalty kick, burying it in the back of the net to give SF State the lead.
“I noticed that she was going right,” Perez said. “I always go right, so I walked up there and was like, I’m still going to go right. I’m not going to second guess myself and last minute I was like, I’m going to go left and she dove right.”
Freshman midfielder Ashleigh Peterson was next up and had to score to keep the Cougars playoff hopes alive. Peterson went right and Rucki made the save to advance the Gators into the semifinals of the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) playoffs.
After the save, Rucki laid on the ground and soaked up the moment as her teammates rushed on the field to celebrate.
“In all honesty, I just knew that I had to come up big,” Rucki said. “I told my team that if we went to penalty kicks, I’m the one to trust, and so I felt every time I stepped up I just had to do something.”
Rucki was ready for the pressure of the shootout and, thanks to studying film, she knew exactly where some of the CSUSM players were going.
“I studied film for a couple hours. I actually had it written on my wrist where two of their shooters were going, so studying pays off apparently,” Rucki said. “On the other ones, I just had to trust my gut.”
Head coach Tracy Hamm was emotional following the victory. Hamm was disappointed in her team’s performance but happy that they are moving onto the next round.
“It wasn’t pretty but we got it done,” Hamm said. “That was quite possibly the worst penalty shootout I’ve ever seen, but it was exciting and I was proud of their effort and now we are a second-round playoff team.”
The Gators travel to Triton Stadium to take on UC San Diego on Friday, Nov. 2. The Gators lost 1-0 to UC San Diego at Cox Stadium on Oct. 7.
Rucki likes her team’s chances heading into the final rounds of the playoffs.
“Nobody in this conference has anything on us,” Rucki said. “We’re the scrappiest ones in this conference and I have faith that we’re going to bring home a ring.”