Cal Poly Women’s Soccer conceded a first-half goal to UC Irvine and couldn’t manage another score as the Mustangs fell 1-0 to the three-time reigning Big West champions on Sunday, Nov. 5th.
The Mustangs (10-8-3, 6-3-1) held the No. 1 seed in the Big West for the majority of the season. However, a loss to UC San Diego in the last game of the season dropped the Mustangs to third place.
But the team took down sixth-seed Hawaii and two-seed UC Davis and reached the Big West Championship game for the second time in three years.
On the other hand, the Anteaters battled their way from the five seed to secure a championship. The Mustangs previously fell to the Anteaters in 2021 in the final game of the season.
With the win, the Anteaters receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Mustangs were seeking their sixth trip to the tournament, and it would be their first since 2004. Additionally, they were also looking for their fourth Big West tournament championship.
Last year, the Anteaters were the No. 6 seed in the conference, but after winning the Big West, they reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Earlier this season when the teams met, the Mustangs defeated the Anteaters 2-1.
But the Mustangs couldn’t replicate the success they had against their opponent earlier this season.
Costly mistakes early
For the first half, the Mustangs only put up three total shots with none on goal compared to the Anteaters’ nine shots and a goal scored.
But the Mustangs’ usually stout defense, led by Big West Defensive Player of the Year Emma Brown, made multiple defensive mistakes that nearly turned into goals
Only in the third minute, the Mustangs had a costly turnover they almost turned into a goal, but junior goalkeeper Mackenzie Samuel stopped the progress of the Anteater that was coming to the goal, and sophomore defender/midfielder Camryn Penn was able to clear it from any more danger.
In the 11th minute, there was a close call with a turnover from sophomore midfielder Brennan Cole at the top of the 18-yard line. The Anteaters scored off the error but were called offsides.
All that the Anteaters were missing was timing.
In the 39th minute, the Anteaters had a corner from junior defender Mihaela Perez, and she sent it to the far post. Junior defender Suus de Bakker was able to head the ball back to the penalty spot for sophomore midfielder Mirayah Villalpando. Villalpando then one-timed the ball into the back of the net for the sole score of the game.
The Mustangs shored up their mistakes in the second half
The team had multiple opportunities in the second half with freshman forward Annika Smith leading the attack (she led the Mustangs in total shots with three).
Smith had one close opportunity in the 73rd minute as she faked out a few Anteaters in the 18-yard box but missed her shot.
Then, with two minutes remaining in the game, Smith received a cross from senior forward Olivia Ortiz but missed her shot wide high and right.
The Mustangs were dominant in the second half, but it was not enough for them to get on the board.
The Mustangs will find out if they receive a bid to the tournament on Monday, Nov. 6. If not ,the team’s season will come to a close.