As the Idaho Vandals looked to raise the Big Sky Championship trophy, they had to wait for their first opponent. The Montana Grizzlies played and defeated Portland state 3-0 on Wednesday to set up a semifinal vs Idaho. Both teams come into the game hungry for a birth in the Big Sky championship game.
Montana put on the front foot from the first whistle, outshooting Idaho 5-1. The Vandals were a little better in the second half as they put up four shots to Montana’s seven, but no one could find the back of the net. Regulation ended 0-0, and the game went into overtime.
In the first overtime, the Vandals found their stride, gaining more momentum offensively. After 100 minutes, a goal was finally scored as a misplaced free kick fell right into the path of junior midfielder Margo Schosler. schosler picked up her head, dribbled through the Montana defense and unleashed a shot from just inside the 18-yard box. The ball sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and into the back of the net, giving Idaho the lead with just 13 seconds to go in the first overtime period.
In the second overtime the Vandals were defending for a chance to go to their second Big Sky championship. After 10 minutes of playing defense, when the referee blew the whistle, the Vandals bench exploded. Idaho had just booked their place in the Big Sky Championship game and, as fate would have it, a chance for revenge against NAU.
Schosler was quite happy to be a Vandal after their second win against Montana.
“It feels so good to be a Vandal,” Schosler said.
She was also open about how lucky they were to win.
“I got lucky,” she said. “(Montana) gave me the ball on a platter, then I went into robot mode.”
After beating Montana 1-0 for the second time, the Vandals took on the team that gave them their first conference loss.
Idaho struggled offensively in the first half, only posting one shot. Junior forward Maddy Lasher dribbled down the right wing and found junior forward Jadyn Hanks in the middle of the six-yard box, but Hanks was unable to get enough power on her header, giving NAU an easy save.
Meanwhile, NAU was on fire offensively. They had eight shots, but none of them went in, keeping the game deadlocked at zero at the end of the first half.
The second half was a more even contest. Idaho found their rhythm and started to move the ball around, putting pressure on NAU. That pressure allowed the Vandals to post six shots to the Lumberjacks’ nine, but none of them found the back of the net. As neither team was able to score, they were both headed to their second overtime of the tournament. The first overtime was slow-paced with the Vandals and NAU working exceptionally hard defensively. Their hard work led to one total shot, which was taken by NAU.
With 100 minutes gone by both teams pushed through fatigue and anguish to finish the last 10 minutes. All 18 players on the field were looking to end the game without having to go to a penalty kick shootout. The Vandals had three shots to the Lumberjacks’ two, but neither team’s shots went in. The top two goalies in the conference were now put in one of the most stressful positions of their college careers.
Idaho kicked first and missed, sailing it over the crossbar. The teams then traded makes until the fourth kick when freshman goalkeeper Kira Witte produced a huge save to tie the shootout 3-3.
Idaho would miss their next attempt, shifting all the pressure to Witte. She was unable to save the kick as senior defender Rylie Curran nails it in the bottom corner, beating Idaho 4-3 on pk’s and crowing NAU as Big Sky champions.
After the heartbreaking loss Coach Clevenger had some kind words to say about his team on social media.
As the Vandals 12-3-3 season came to an end, a huge milestone was accomplished. Kira Witte broke the Big Sky single season shutout record with 13, two higher than the previous record.
Four Vandals played well enough to be named to the Big Sky all-tournament team. Those four were Witte, Schosler, sophomore midfielder Jayd Sprague and sophomore center back Cassidy Elicker.
The 2022 season may not have ended how the Vandals wanted it to, but nevertheless, it’s a season to be proud of. The Vandals are also a young team, so more championship games aren’t out of the equation.
Jayden Barfuss can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JaydenBarfuss10