Cougar fans experienced déjà vu Saturday as the WSU soccer team fell to the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the NCAA Division-I Women’s Soccer Championship.
For the second straight year, Head Coach Keidane McAlpine’s squad faced its kryptonite during the penalty kick period, which was won 3-1 by Illinois.
“Losing hurts,” McAlpine said. “Losing during PKs when you had done enough to win the game hurts a little bit more.”
After 110 hard fought minutes and the score knotted at 0-0, Illinois freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley stepped up after having a sloppy performance in regulation.
“As the game went on I was just doing what I needed to do to not let the ball get behind me,” Wheatley said. “Practicing PKs in practice really helped. I went in confident and knew if I went the right way I could save it.”
During the penalty kick period, WSU junior forward Jocelyn Jeffers and sophomore forward Kourtney Guetlein were turned away by Wheatley, while Illinois redshirt sophomore midfielder Aliina Weykamp and sophomore midfielder Taylore Peterson converted their opportunities and gave the Illini a 2-0 advantage.
WSU senior defender Katie Turney tallied the first PK for the Cougars when she sent a right-footed rocket underneath the crossbar closing the gap to 2-1. However, Illinois senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo sent the Illini to the next round when her penalty shot just got by the outstretched gloves of WSU’s redshirt junior goalkeeper Gurveen Clair.
“I’ve taken a lot of (PKs) in my life, so I just went in confident,” DiBernardo said. “I just went out and did the things I normally would do.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Washington State controlled the pace throughout the match, accruing 29 total shots, which is the most in a match for the Cougars since 2003. However, an injury to senior forward and Pac-12 Player of the Year winner Micaela Castain left an irreplaceable hole to fill in the second half.
“She was our leading goal scorer, she’s the one that can dribble out of tough situations,” McAlpine said. “I thought we had our best looks in the first half while she was in.”
Castain’s replacement, freshman forward Kaitlyn Johnson, played a pivotal role in the game, as her what would have been game-winning goal in the first overtime period was nullified due to an offside call.
“The flag went up right away and there was no hesitation, so I have to assume (the line judge) made the right call,” McAlpine said. “Kaitlyn did what she was supposed to do by running and getting a chance to score.”
Although the loss left a sour taste in the mouths of the Cougar Faithful, McAlpine’s team hopes to reach these heights next season.
“We try to make history every time we step out as a unit,” he said. “We have a lot of things we can build on, not just for this year, but for the future.”