It was both senior day and alumni day at Stevens Stadium, more well known as Buckshaw Field, in Santa Clara on Sunday Oct. 30th. The Santa Clara women’s soccer team celebrated their graduating class during a pregame ceremony. Fittingly enough, a star senior midfielder Jordan Jesolva figured in on the late game-winning goal with an assist. With the 1-0 final, the Broncos are guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament according to head coach Jerry Smith.
“We did know [before the game] that a win puts us into the tournament. A tie or a loss today and it would have put pressure to have to win [our final game] at USF,” commented the long-time Broncos coach. “There are three requirements [to qualify for NCAA tourney], you need to have a low RPI [Rating Percentage Index] (basically, strength of schedule), you have done well against the top-40, and have a better than .500 record. Our strength of schedule is the No. 1 ranked schedule in the country. Because we have played such a tough schedule, we are hovering around .500. That was the thing, with a win today, we can’t drop below .500. With only one game left, our RPI can’t drop too far. Against the top-40, we have three wins and three ties, which is better than 95% of the country. To have three wins and three ties against the top-40 [is impressive], sometimes you only play two games against a couple top-40 teams. But we have three wins and three ties. We are absolutely confident that this win puts us into the NCAA tournament.”
This year will mark the 27th time in the last 29 years that the Broncos women will partake in the NCAA tourney. The Broncos are certainly pleased with the win, but it wasn’t a pretty performance in the home finale. Santa Clara didn’t generate much in the way of chances in the first half despite dominating ball possession throughout the game.
In the second half is where the Broncos really started to put on a push. Prior to freshman forward Maddie Gonzalez scoring in the 83rd minute, Jesolva just missed on two gorgeous chances. The senior ripped a shot off the crossbar during the 74th minute, and minutes earlier she headed one just wide from right outside the six-yard box.
“We needed to be more aggressive and urgent to score,” recalled Jesolva about the sequence leading up to her string of chances. “The header, well, we were tied 0-0 with like 15 minutes left, I tried to get it on goal [but missed]. The shot I was able to get, Vass [senior Julie Vass] played a really nice ball through, I took a touch past the defender, got a little nervous and shot it, tried to hit the goal, but got the crossbar, unlucky.”
“It was really relieving,” added Jesolva on finally breaking through with the late goal. “I’m glad we were able to get it in the back of the net. We were all over them the whole game.”
Gonzalez’s goal was her fourth on the season, an impressive number for a freshman coming of the bench. Santa Clara has struggled scoring goals this season though and has had to rely on a strong back line led by senior captain Kellie Peay. In fact, the Broncos haven’t given up more than two goals in any game in over 40 straight matches dating back to October of 2014.
“Ever since freshman year [Kellie’s] been solid,” remarked Jesolva on her four-year teammate. “We’ve had a solid back line.”
Other notable performances for the Broncos against Portland were senior defender Anjel Brown and freshman Machaela George. Brown stopped one of the rare first half chances by the Pilots with a nice tackle, while George had a couple of decent shots towards goal after coming off the bench.
Santa Clara’s strong second-half push was certainly needed to come away with the victory. There wasn’t much space created to get opportunities toward goal in the first half. It had rained quite a bit prior to the game, and that may have had an impact early.
“I thought we were sluggish today, I thought both teams were sluggish. Sometimes when you’re on a heavy field, when it just rains a little bit, heavy on your legs. We both had hard games on Friday” responded Smith about his team’s performance. “To be fair to our group, we had 14 shots to their one shot so we were on them pretty good, in the second half I thought we were really on them. I feel good about having dominated the game a bit in that regard. Credit to Portland, they were organized and tough to break down. It was kind of a bang-bang play where we scored. They wouldn’t let us get any clean looks at the goal. The couple times we had good looks, I thought Jordan had a good clean look, but hit it off the crossbar. It’s stressful having to go that late into a game to win, but it’s better to win ugly than lose pretty, and we won ugly today.”