After a gritty, 100-plus minute match that forced it to push through endless physicality and countless injuries, Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer won the Big West Championship. The win gave the Titans their seventh Big West Championship and punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament appearance.
“I couldn’t be happier for our program. On top of the fact that our nine seniors, for them to be able to finish their outstanding careers as Big West Conference Tournament champions again, it’s almost a speechless type of moment,” said Titans Head Coach Demian Brown.
CSUF, creating powerhouse plays from its corners, nearly notched its first score when a header from Titans centerback Nano Oronoz neared the corner post of the net but was ultimately blocked by Cal State Northridge goalie Jovani McCaskill.
CSUN, aiming for its second Big West title, advanced its offensive pressure on the Titans’ defense while upping its physicality, fouling Fullerton three times while CSUF kept its composure and only totaled one.
In the final moments of the first half, Titans midfielder Callie Petrey-Juarez made a solo run past four CSUN defenders and around McCaskill for an open net but lost her footing, ensuring the the first half ended in a 0-0 draw.
In the 56th minute of the match, the Titans acquired another corner kick, and amid the madness Oronoz got her head on the ball, giving the Titans a 1-0 lead, a goal she credited to her coach’s composure despite the adversity the Titans had encountered.
“When you have a calm leader, it gives you that reassurance that ‘Okay, we can relax,’” Oronoz said.
The Titans couldn’t relax long. In an attempt to block another shot from CSUN, a foul was called on CSUF, giving the Matadors a penalty kick.
Titans goalie Morgan Bertsch couldn’t come up with a save, tying the match 1-1 in the 80th minute.
The final minutes of the match remained a battle for possession, but neither team scored the final goal to end it, and things went to overtime at Matador Field.
The first overtime period mirrored the rest of the game as both teams remained scoreless and sent the game to double overtime.
“Defense wins championships, simple as that,” said Titans forward Sarah Fajnor.“If your defense is on, everything else will be on. They set the standard for everyone.”
As the final two minutes of the second overtime period neared, Titans forward Samantha McKenna attempted to gain possession but found herself in a forceful collision with CSUN defender Lindsay Kutscher for which she was given the Titans’ first yellow card.
Still, neither team scored, and the game went into penalty kicks.
“To be able to have a final like this that ends 1-1 and has to be settled by PK’s is just a measure of how strong and how competitive our conference is,” Brown said.
In the first two rounds of the shootout, both teams netted their shots.
When the second round for attempts came, Bertsch — after not saving the previous penalty kick or the one in regulation — blocked Kutscher’s shot.
Following Bertsch, McCaskill returned the favor and blocked Fajnor’s attempt.
The stands remained quiet as the next two athletes from each team scored. Bertsch then blocked another shot.
“I did not have a single doubt that (Bertsch) wasn’t going to come up big,” Oronoz said. “She is co-goalkeeper of the year for a reason. So when she stepped up, we knew she was going to come up big.”
Titans midfielder Tala Haddad followed up Bertsch’s block with a goal, but Christina Nixon answered with a goal for CSUN.
CSUF midfielder Kaycee Hoover was the last to shoot, with the championship’s outcome pending on her attempt.
The anticipation grew at Matador Field, and when Hoover’s game-winning goal hit the back of the net, Titans fans roared at the realization that CSUF was the 2017 Big West champion.
“This was the goal we set since the day we lost against UCI last year and for us to get it done is unreal,” Fajnor said.
CSUF women’s soccer now has the chance to continue its season, as the Titans will advance to the NCAA tournament.
Fullerton will find out who it’s facing in the first round on Monday morning. Until then, the Titans are setting their mind on approaching the match with the same preparation.
“We look forward to the announcement show,” Brown said. “Tuesday’s training will look a lot like last Tuesday’s training and the last Tuesday before that.”