UC San Diego soccer plays for national title

Senior forward Annette Ilg scored in the 56th minute off a cross from Sarah McTigue to give the No. 12 UC San Diego women’s soccer team a 1-0 win over No. 1 Saint Rose in the NCAA Division II national semifinals Thursday afternoon at Owsley B. Frazier Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Tritons advance to face defending national champion No. 5 Grand Valley State on Saturday at 9:00 a.m. PST (12:00 p.m. EST) for the NCAA Division II National Championship. It is the first time UCSD will appear in the national championship match since 2001, when the Tritons took home the last of their seven national championships.

The Tritons improve to 19-2-3 overall on the year, having won or drawn 19 consecutive matches since September 19. St. Rose picked the wrong time to drop its first match of the year and will end the season with a 23-1-1 overall clip.

In a match characterized by two distinctly different halves for the Tritons, Ilg’s goal came at the right time. UCSD was out-shot 9-1 in the first half, St. Rose earned six corner kicks within the first 30 minutes, and UCSD goalkeeper Kristin Armstrong made two critical saves to keep the match scoreless.

“It is good that we won considering we played for 45 minutes,” UCSD head coach Brian McManus said, referring to his team’s slow start. “It’s a bit snowy out there and I think our ladies played like the weather; they just froze in that first half.”

As the snow flurries thickened in the second frame, McTigue created the Tritons’ first legitimate scoring opportunity by turning her defender at midfield and starting a two-on-two breakaway along with Ilg. McTigue would cut the ball back to the top of the arc on the edge of the penalty box to draw in both defenders, but her pass to an open Ilg was deflected out of play.

Minutes later, UCSD would draw a foul outside the left side of the Golden Knights’ goal box. McTigue and free-kick specialist Hayley Johnson posed behind the ball, with Johnson suggesting a left-footed cross away from goal and McTigue offering a right-footed ball that would turn towards the front post. Johnson took a step towards the ball, but it was McTigue who curled in the service at the edge of the six-yard box. Ilg broke away from her defender and reached the cross a split second before the St. Rose goalkeeper, flicking the ball into the side netting.

“Sarah played an absolutely perfect cross, just like we had practiced all week,” said Ilg. “All I had to do was get a foot to it and it ended up in the corner of the net.”

Ilg, who earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Association Women’s Basketball Second Team honors in 2009 after her fourth season on the Triton basketball team, now leads the women’s soccer team with 11 goals on the year. A graduate student in her fifth year on the La Jolla campus, Ilg was awarded the 2010 CCAA Newcomer of the Year award for women’s soccer last month.

When asked by a local reporter if she ever thought she would score the goal that would send UCSD to the national championship when she joined the team in the fall, Ilg replied with a cool, “No way… but it sure does feel good.”

The Tritons nearly added another goal in the 73rd minute, as midfielder Lindsay Mills found herself with acres of space along the right sideline in front of the UCSD bench. Noticing Courtney Capobianco sprinting toward the box from the far side with a defender behind her, Mills floated a cross to the penalty spot, but Capobianco’s header missed wide right.

UCSD improves to 10-1 in 2010 in matches decided by a single goal. St. Rose out-shot UCSD, 11-5, and had nine corner kicks in comparison with the Tritons’ three. Ironically, UCSD is 6-1-1 when it is out-shot and has won all three matches in which an opponent has taken more corner kicks.

UCSD will be looking for its eighth national championship in program history and its third at the Division II level when the team takes the field on Saturday.

“I can’t really describe this feeling, it’s unbelievable,” said Armstrong. “It’s a one game season from here on out and we will definitely be ready Saturday.”

UCSD has won two national championships at the Division II level in 2000 and 2001. The Tritons won the Division III national championship in 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995, and 1989.

GVSU earned a trip to its third national championships match within the last five years by beating Florida Tech, 2-0, on Thursday morning. The Lakers have outscored 2010 NCAA Tournament opponents, 13-0, and have not dropped a match since September 19.

Stay up to date with the UC San Diego women’s soccer team by visiting and clicking on “Soccer Championship Central” on the homepage. Photos, updates, and videos of the Tritons’ journey will be made available throughout the Final Four.