Utah State and Nevada are at opposite sides of the Mountain West women’s soccer standings, but the casual fan wouldn’t have thought that in the Aggies thrilling 2-1 victory over the Wolf Pack on Friday afternoon at Bell Field.
USU head coach Manny Martins appeared content with the victory, but didn’t shy away from saying his team didn’t play to its potential.
“Not our best performance,” Martins said. “But one thing that came through was our resilience and we were able to dig ourselves out of it.”
The two sides played to a standstill in the first half, neither side breaking through for goals. USU outshot its foes 6-2 in the opening 45 minutes, but UNR had the advantage in shots on goal, 2-1.
Nevada not only held its own despite the massive gap on paper, but also scored the first goal of the match in the 49th minute. USU goalkeeper Diera Walton failed to catch a corner kick by Hannah Souza, and it fell to Maddie Marr, who headed the ball just inside the far post. It’s just the second goal the Wolf Pack have scored in September (five matches).
The hustle and drive of Nevada to take home an upset didn’t surprise Martins — a 22-year coaching veteran — in the least.
“I’ve done this long enough not to look at team’s records,” Martins said. “I don’t know who they’ve played, I knew they were gonna be a team that’s hungry, that is prepared. They’ve watched enough of our games to be able to scout us. So I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
“My surprise was in our performance,” Martins said.
Out on the field, the players themselves were learning the lesson of respecting heavy underdogs in real time. If the first 48 minutes hadn’t taught the lesson well enough, the 49th-minute goal sent the message home.
“We just realized ‘shoot, we’re behind, we’ve gotta go and we’ve gotta do it now,’” senior forward Jordan Foraker said.
While perhaps shocked at falling behind to the Wolf Pack, the Aggies were not left in a stupor. They quickly rallied a response. And who else to answer the call than Ashley Cardozo, the team’s leader in points. In the 52nd minute, Cardozo dribbled to the left corner of the penalty box, side-stepped two defenders and curled the ball into the far-side netting of the goal to equalize.
Cardozo had her feet involved in the second goal for USU (8-1-1) as well. In the 86th, she again attacked down the left, this time near the end line. She shimmied past the defense and sent in a cross. Nevada goalkeeper Kendal Stovall got a punch on the ball, but it fell to the feet of Jordan Foraker, who kicked the ball off a defender and into the right side of the net.
Both goals resulted in part from Cardozo’s ability to create chances with the ball at her feet. Martins said having a player with that ability is “incredible” and that it allows the offense to have “variety.”
“Tactically we have some things we’re looking for and then when that doesn’t work we have other looks,” Martins said.
The three points from a goal and assist advances Cardozo to fifth all-time at USU in points with 70, passing Brigid Turner (69).
Friday’s match followed one of the biggest wins in USU program history — a 2-1 win over BYU. It was the first win for the Aggies over the Cougars ever, not to mention the Provo side was ranked 18th at the time. The high from that match likely hadn’t worn off come kickoff six days after that win.
“It’s always tough when you win a big emotional match,” Martins said. “Round them and get them back and ready for the next one. Always a challenge.”
“I think maybe mentally we just weren’t quite there,” Foraker said. “We were kind of hung up on the last game still and we shouldn’t have been.”
Utah State’s next game will be an even bigger test than the nearly winless Wolf Pack. The Aggies will travel to Las Vegas to face the UNLV Rebels, who are 7-2 on the season and only one spot behind USU in the Mountain West standings.
USU (9-4, 1-0 MW) opened the Mountain West portion of its season Thursday, taking Wyoming (8-5, 0-1 MW) down in a five-set thriller in Laramie.
Thursday’s match was the ultimate battle, with ups and downs for both teams. The contest was tight from the beginning with Wyoming taking the first set, 25-23. The second followed suit, but went on much longer before Utah State won, 33-31. The Aggies then took a dominant third set, 25-14, but the Cowgirls answered and held off a USU rally to win the fourth, 25-22. Utah State then got the momentum back to take the match with a 15-11 win in the fifth.
The third set was the highest-scoring set by a Utah State team since a 33-31 set win at Idaho on Nov. 5, 2007. At that point, however, NCAA volleyball sets were played to 30, with the sport moving to 25-point sets in 2008. USU’s win over Wyoming snaps a six-match losing skid against the Cowgirls.
Utah State had a very balanced attack Thursday as three players recorded double-digit kills. Middle blocker Corinne Larsen led all players with a career-best 18 kills, hitting .405 on the night. Outside hitter Tatum Stall was just behind Larsen with a season-high 17 kills, and MB Kennedi Boyd added 15 kills, while hitting a team-best .444.
As a team, Utah State hit .204, while holding Wyoming to a .107 hitting percentage — its second-lowest of the season.
The Aggie efense had a solid night as well. Four Aggies put up double-digit dig numbers, where libero Abby Peterson led the way with a season-high 25. Three USU players posted double-double performances. Freshman setter Kalia Thunstrom tallied 23 assists and 18 digs, while junior setter Kalena Vaivai had 23 assists and 15 digs.
Stall added 11 digs to her kill total for her third double-double of the season. Utah State finished the match with 13 team blocks, led by Boyd and Larsen with seven and six, respectively.
Utah State will continue its weekend on the road, playing Colorado State on Saturday at 1 p.m.