With nothing but pride and seniors to play for, the Aggies showed they can compete with the best in the Mountain West Conference on the pitch.
Utah State ended the 2019 soccer campaign with a thrilling 1-0 win against Boise State at Bell Field on a sunny, but chilly Friday afternoon. It was the final game for seniors Mealii Enos, Kanyan Merrill and Alecia Robinson.
“It was a great way to send out the seniors,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “The team has really started to play some of its best soccer towards the end of the year. They did everything they could today to make this a great send off for seniors that are really irreplaceable for us.
“... These seniors have set their mind to changing the culture of this program. They have put us back on the right track. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”
The Broncos (16-4, 8-3 MW) started the day tied with San Diego State for first in the league. That didn’t seem to bother the Aggies (8-10-1, 3-7-1), who will not make the Mountain West tournament since they finished out of the top six, one bit.
“I felt like we executed really well,” USU keeper Diera Walton said. “This is one of our top three games that we have played this year. ... It feels amazing (to beat Boise State). I think it’s super special for this group because we will never be together again.”
While the seniors were honored on the final day of the regular season, it was a pair of freshmen that came up big for the hosts. Walton finished with a career-high 11 saves and recorded her sixth clean sheet of the year, matching the most shutouts by a freshman goalkeeper since the 2013 season. Freshman midfielder Megan Astle scored the lone goal of the match.
Walton faced 19 shots from the Broncos. The Aggies finished the match with five. Merrill led the Aggies with two shots, followed by Astle, junior defender Imelda Williams and junior midfielder Kami Warner each with one.
“Diera has been big for us all season,” Cairns said. “... Gosh, to have her three more years suiting up in that Aggie jersey is going to be something special.”
Astle made the most of her only shot of the game, blasting a screamer from outside the 18-yard box into the upper right corner in the 30th minute. The goal was Astle’s second of the year and her second game-winning goal this season.
“Holy cow Megan had a banger,” Cairns said. “Oh my goodness, that was a heck of a hit. It was fantastic.”
While the goal was unassisted, the coach credited Merrill with getting the ball forward to Williams, who then got the ball to Astle by splitting the defense as dangerous scorer Ashley Cardozo was also an option.”
Boise State turned up the heat as the second half wore on. The speedy Broncos made some dangerous runs and got off some shots on goal. However, Walton was up to the task and made saver after save.
“It’s just mental; I have to stay mentally in the game and stay positive,” Walton said. “I have to keep myself controlled and motivated. ... They (Broncos) are really good, so much respect to them. They are really fast.”
In the closing minutes BSU was awarded a free kick just outside the 18-yard box, but sailed the shot over the goal. The Aggies were able to control possession of the ball for big chunks of time in the second half and eat up the clock.
“We had to be stout with our defending and make sure that we had more bodies around the ball,” Cairns said. “... It came down to us being clinical and winning first and second balls.”
The departure of the three seniors will be felt, but the Aggies do return a wealth of experience.
“We have a lot of good freshmen that are going to do well,” Walton said.