As the final seconds ticked down before kick-off against the Eastern Washington Eagles on Saturday, senior Morgan Andrews danced across midfield.
The midfielder twisted and hopped in place to “Shout!” by The Isley Brothers as it blasted through the loudspeakers, pointing at her frontline and earning laughs from the whole team. The players looked relaxed, more like a team about to start a scrimmage than one about to kick off the first game of the NCAA tournament.
But then the whistle blew, the first kick sent the ball into the attacking half of the field and Andrews proved why the Trojans have the confidence to dance their way far into this year’s tourney. In a 3-1 victory over Eastern Washington, the Trojans advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The first goal for the Trojans wasn’t the prettiest, but it threw the team into an offensive that drove the rest of the game. In the 29th minute, Andrews rocketed a shot straight at Eagles keeper Mallory Taylor. The ball ricocheted off her gloves and across the goal line. Taylor scrambled to gather up the ball, but the sideline ref thrust his flag high, signalling that the ball went just far enough to tally a goal.
Senior midfielder Savannah Levin followed minutes later, slicing through defenders in the box toward the right post before she was sent sprawling by a defender. Andrews stepped up to take the penalty kick that followed. She shimmied, sent Taylor shuffling to the right and then buried her shot in the left side of the net.
Within minutes, the Trojans had taken a 2-0 lead. From that point on, it was damage control for Eastern Washington as the USC pounded their backline. Junior Nicole Molen finished the half with a perfect touch on a header to send the ball into the right netting with a minute left to play, and the Trojans entered the half with a 3-0 lead and all the momentum on their side.
There’s a difference between playing confident and playing casual, and that became clear for the Trojans in the second half. In the 59th minute, the Eagles slipped a header past keeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme’s gloves, chipping away at the lead.
“I think sometimes we get too casual, which can hurt us,” Prudhomme said. “We just need to keep going patiently and keep passing and making the right decisions. We can’t relax too much.”
It didn’t take much to make the momentum waver. Though USC retained possession and continued to pressure in their attacking third, Eastern Washington launched dangerous counterattack drives. And a blocked penalty kick following a second foul in the box on Levin spurred the Eagles onto their feet.
But pressure from defenders Mandy Freeman and Ally Prisock kept the Trojans in control. The team took 35 shots and put 17 on frame, forcing 13 saves from Taylor. And a tightening of the defense after allowing a goal meant that Prudhomme only had to make three saves.
The Eagles kept offensive pressure until the very end, lofting a shot that Prudhomme caught easily, ending the game with the ball in her hands. The victory advanced the Trojans onto the second round of the NCAA championship. The team will take on Texas A&M next week, and head coach Keidane McAlpine feels that his squad is ready to go the distance in the tourney.
“There’s no easy game at this point,” McAlpine said. “It’s just a matter of preparation at this point. I thought it was a good first win. A good way to start the tournament.”