Cal Poly women’s soccer fell 1-0 in the Big West Conference Tournament championship game against UC Irvine on Sunday, Nov. 7 inside Anteater Stadium. 

“I thought it was a tale of two halves,” head coach Alex Crozier said. “They had a great game and a great season.” 

This was the first time in 12 years that the Mustangs had played for a chance at the conference title.

An eventful second half full of attacking chances by Cal Poly (13-8, 8-3 Big West) was not enough to take the crown off UC Irvine (15-5, 9-2 Big West), who scored in the first half.

The Anteaters immediately kicked off the match with a close call within the first 30 seconds as they played a ball into the penalty box. However, they were unable to turn it into a goal.

Five minutes later, sophomore forward Olivia Ortiz nearly opened the scoring after volleying a ball that bounced just outside of the right post. 

UC Irvine came to the attack again in the 20th minute, but freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Samuel performed a double-save in order to keep the game scoreless. 

The Anteaters finally opened the scoring in the 32nd minute as Alex Jaquez launched a rocket from outside the 18-yard box to put UC Irvine ahead 1-0. The score came off a long throw-in play by the Anteaters.

After the goal, the Mustangs pushed forward looking to attack but were unable to even the score and went into halftime trailing at 1-0. 

UC Irvine played a well-rounded first half, landing five shots on goal while preventing Cal Poly from placing a single one on frame.

The Mustangs came out into the second-half with attacking momentum by finding space and taking multiple chances. Within the first ten minutes of the second half, the Mustangs created two dangerous opportunities to force the Anteater defense on their toes. 

“I think we just did a really good job of sticking to our game plan and when things got hectic, we still stuck to it and I think that’s a testament to this team,” Samuel said. “Everyone put us as the underdogs this season and I think we used that underdog mentality to our advantage.”

The Mustangs kept attacking, as sophomore defender Kylie Rojas found the keeper off her line but sent the ball just over the crossbar in the 60th minute. 

In the 73rd minute, Cal Poly nearly evened the score with a shot destined to find the back of the net. However, it was denied by the Anteater defense just in front of goal. 

Ten minutes later, Rojas ran into the penalty box with another goal scoring attempt for the Mustangs, but Jaquez came in with a last-second tackle to clear the danger. 

Immediately after, two Mustang defenders collided at the back, leaving a gap in their defensive line and the Irvine attack going 1-on-1 with Samuel. The threat was unsuccessful, as the Anteater forward placed the ball wide of the left post. 

Cal Poly did not give up late in the match as Rojas ran into the box on the next play with another shot, this time right into the keeper’s arms.

The Mustangs’ attacking efforts were not enough to land a goal in the closing minutes as they ultimately fell 1-0 in the championship game. 

Cal Poly finished the game with three shots on target compared to UC Irvine’s six. The game was also a physical one, with the Mustangs committing 14 fouls while the Anteaters were called for 16. 

“I think moving forward, we’ve been growing and getting better every week,” Crozier said. “It’s a fantastic group.”

With the victory, UC Irvine earned a place in the NCAA Tournament, with the first round starting on Nov. 12-14.

For the Mustangs, their historic 2021 season came to an end.

“I’m ready to see how far we can take it next year,” Samuel said.

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