Dec. 9, 2011
LONG BEACH - The Long Beach State women's soccer team proved it belongs on the national stage in 2011 as its historic season culminated in the program's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight.
The 49ers, who won their second consecutive Big West Tournament title, were making their third trip to the NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Championship in the last four years. They had yet to win an NCAA game before their Cinderella run put them one victory away from the Final Four.
LBSU started off the 2011 campaign with a 2-1 upset over No. 25 USC on Aug. 19. Senior Shawna Gordon scored the game-winner with just over four minutes remaining in the second half, while junior Alex Balcer netted her first career goal in the 36th minute. Two days later, the 49ers cruised to a 3-0 win over Sacramento State in their home opener. Senior Jazz Strozier led the attack with a goal and an assist.
Long Beach State then embarked on its first road trip of the season as it made its way to Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Cup. The 49ers ended up falling to Milwaukee (3-2) and Marquette (2-1), both of whom spent most of the season ranked among the top 25. Both Gordon and junior Nadia Link were named to the all-tournament team.
LBSU was quick to bounce back, however, as it went 8-1-1 over its next 10 games. During that span, the 49ers had two six-goal wins, which marked the largest margin of victory in program history, and started off Big West play at 2-0.
In its final week of non-conference action, Long Beach State defeated Saint Mary's, 6-0. Senior Nicole Hubbard registered a hat trick and Gordon established a single-game school record with four assists. The 49ers also topped UNLV, 4-1, with Link tallying two goals.
LBSU then hit the road for its Big West opener at UC Santa Barbara on Sept. 30. It went down to the wire, but Gordon was able to convert on a penalty kick just one minute into the first overtime period to give LBSU the 2-1 victory.
Long Beach State then picked up its sixth straight victory with a 2-1 overtime win against Cal State Fullerton. The Titans struck in the 28th minute and held the 1-0 lead until the 49ers worked their magic with Hubbard scoring the equalizer with just 12 seconds left in regulation. The Black & Gold held onto that momentum in overtime where Link connected for the game-winner at the 94:11 mark.
LBSU then suffered a pair of setbacks, falling to Cal State Northridge (1-0) and UC Irvine (2-0) on the road, but the 49ers regrouped and answered with the greatest run in program history.
The 49ers won their final three regular season games to finish with a 6-2-0 mark in Big West play. That earned them the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament as they ended up hosting Cal State Northridge in the semifinals. After a scoreless first half, Link put Long Beach State up, 1-0, in the 55th minute before Sweetman tacked on an insurance goal in the 74th minute for the 2-0 win. With the victory, the 49ers secured their third appearance in the Big West finals in the last four years.
LBSU faced a big test in the championship match where they made the short trip to UC Irvine to take on the 16th-ranked Anteaters. Long Beach State was up to the challenge, however, with Strozier striking at the 12:40 mark. The defense stayed strong the rest of the way, blanking UCI for just the second time of the season. Balcer was named the Big West Tournament MVP as she anchored the 49er back line and also assisted on the game-winner against UC Irvine.
One day after claiming their second Big West Tournament title, the 49ers found out they would be heading to No. 7 Pepperdine for an NCAA first-round match-up. LBSU, which had yet to win an NCAA game, finally made it over the hump, defeating the Waves, 1-0, in overtime. With just 13 seconds remaining in the first extra period, Link scored the golden goal to put Long Beach State into the second round. Squaring off against ACC foe Miami, LBSU once again found the back of the net late in the game with sophomore Kelsey Wilson's long-range shot giving the 49ers the 1-0 victory. It was Wilson's second goal of the year.
In the Sweet 16, the 49ers had another unexpected hero as freshman Ashley Roese delivered the game-winner in the 56th minute of a 1-0 victory over San Diego. Roese had appeared in just nine games prior to the match against the Toreros and hadn't played since LBSU's regular season meeting against UC Davis on Oct. 28. Roese saw more playing time and a number of 49ers shifted positions due to the rain and wet field conditions. Hubbard saw her first action at midfield and did a phenomenal job controlling the game.
The 49ers then found themselves where no one else would have predicted them to be, one win away from the NCAA Women's College Cup. LBSU headed to top-seeded and third-ranked Duke as one of just three teams in the Elite Eight to have not allowed a goal in the tournament. The 49ers were right with the Blue Devils in the first half, but Duke was able to pull ahead in the second period to prevail, 2-0. The loss snapped Long Beach State's school-record eight-game winning streak.
Long Beach State finished the 2011 season with an 18-6-1 overall record, marking the program's sixth 10-win campaign in the last seven years. The 18 wins also eclipsed the previous single-season record of 16, which the 2006, 2008 and 2010 squads had established. In addition, the 49ers shattered the school record for goals (49), assists (52) and points (150).
Long Beach State was 14th in the final NSCAA national poll, marking the first time in school history the 49ers have been ranked at the end of the year.
LBSU also earned a number of individual postseason awards, led by Nadia Link, who was tabbed the Big West Offensive Player of the Year. Link was also a first-team All-West Region and first-team All-Big West selection. The Rowland Heights native amassed 16 goals, 10 assists and 42 points. She tied the 27-year old school record for goals in a season and became just the third 49er, and first since the program was reinstated in 1998, to reach double figures in both goals and assists.
Shawna Gordon was named the Big West Midfielder of the Year, while she also earned first-team All-West Region honors and was selected to the All-Big West first team for the third year in a row. Gordon totaled a career-high seven goals and 10 assists.
Nicole Hubbard received All-Big West honorable mention recognition for the second consecutive year. Hubbard had been a three-year starter at left back before moving up to the front line for most of her senior season. She finished second on the team with eight goals.
Alex Balcer was a first-team All-Big West and second-team All-West Region pick, while Kaitlyn Gustaves and Jordan Nelson garnered second-team all-conference recognition. The trio anchored a 49er defense that posted a league-best 12 shutouts and 0.79 goals against average. As center backs, Balcer (1 goal, 4 assists) and Nelson (2 asssists) both made their presence felt on the offensive end as well. Gustaves played every minute in between the posts, compiling 83 saves.
Long Beach State saw unprecedented team and individual success in 2011 and it will be a season that will forever be etched in the 49er record books.
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