Long Beach State won their second straight Big West Tournament crown, defeating UC Irvine 1-0
49ers Take Big West Tournament
Repeating the results of the 2010 season, Long Beach State once again defeated UC Irvine in the Big West Tournament to take the conference championship. It was the fourth time since the Big West Tournament was reinstated in 2003 that a school had won at least twice in a row. For the Anteaters it marked the second year they had taken the top spot in conference play, only to lose in the tournament final to the 49ers.
UC Irvine (ranked No. 1) had started the weekend off by defeating No. 4 UC Davis 1-0 at Anteater Stadium on Thursday, November 3. Likewise, No. 2 Long Beach State had won at home, beating No. 3 Cal State Northridge 2-0. That set up the repeat showdown between Anteaters and 49ers at Irvine. The 1-0 final score was the same margin of victory that Long Beach had posted in 2010 and was only the second shutout suffered by Irvine this season. The win also gave Long Beach an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Long Beach (2010, 2011) joined three other teams in winning the Big West crown in successive years. Cal Poly began the tradition, taking the first two championships in 2003 and 2004. The next three years belonged to Cal State Fullerton, with first-place finishes in 2005-2007. Prior to Long Beach, UC Santa Barbara took the tournament crown in 2008 and 2009.
In a hard-fought match, it was the play of the 49ers defense that made the difference as Irvine outshot the visitors 12-5. Both teams managed only two shots in the first half, but Long Beach made the most of their chances in the 13th minute when senior Jazz Strozier scored following back-to-back headers by junior Alex Balcer and senior Shawna Gordon. The goal was Strozier’s fourth of the season. For her play at both ends of the field, defender Balcer was named Big West Tournament MVP.
In the second half Irvine came out shooting, amassing ten shots against the stingy Long Beach defense. Senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Gustaves had four saves in the game for the 49ers, including a diving stop against a 25-yard free kick by CoCo Goodson in the 61st minute. The two tournament victories marked Gustaves’ eighth and ninth clean sheets on the season, including four in her last five matches. She has played all 1915 minutes this season, with 63 saves and a 0.85 goals against average.
Irvine will join Long Beach in the “Big Dance” on the strength of their 14-4-2 season and placement in the polls. It will mark the third time in the last four seasons that the Big West has sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament and the fourth time since 2005 it has sent multiple representatives. The 49ers will take on No. 3 regional seed Pepperdine at Pepperdine on Saturday, November 12, while the Anteaters will host WCC co-champion University of San Diego on Friday, November 11. Pepperdine, which tied San Diego in the WCC, earned the automatic berth because of their earlier victory over the Toreros.
The winner of the Pepperdine-Long Beach match will face either Miami (FL) or Alabama on Friday, November 18 at a site to be determined. The Irvine-San Diego victor will take on either No. 2 UCLA or New Mexico, also on November 18. The 49ers are 0-2 in NCAA Tournament play after losing to San Diego in 2008 and Santa Clara in 2010, both in the first round. The Anteaters have had more success at “the dance” with a 2-1 record, all in 2010. That year Irvine beat Arizona State and Wake Forest before falling to Washington in the Sweet 16 Round.
The Big West Conference is a nine-member Division I conference that is currently the only athletic conference with all of its members in one state (California). In 2012 the conference will add the University of Hawai’i at Manoa – its first non-California school since 2005 – and Cal State Sacramento. The Big West currently sponsors 15 sports, including men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, and track and field.
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