After qualifying for its first women's soccer NCAA Tournament since 2006, all Kentucky could do was watch as Washington State's Mesa Owsley clinched the game for the Cougars in penalty kicks on Saturday night. The Cougars won in penalties, 4-2, after playing to a 1-1 tie after regulation and two overtimes.
The Wildcats finished the regular season ranked No. 17 in the RPI, a spot high enough to host a first-round game at the UK Soccer Complex. It was the first time the program has hosted a women's soccer NCAA Tournament game since 1999.
After the game stalemated and went to the penalty kick session, Washington State took an immediate 2-0 advantage when UK's Danielle Krohn hit her attempt off the inside of the goal post, and Alyssa Telang's sailed high over the crossbar — something UK Coach Jon Lipsitz said hadn't happened in the 150-to-200 penalty-kick attempts charted in practice the past few weeks.
The penalty kicks kept UK from winning its first-ever NCAA Tournament game. They are now 0-8 since the program's first berth in 1995. It was the program's first bid since Lipsitz was hired before the 2009 season.
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"I wanted so bad to give the game ball to Mitch," Lipsitz said, referring to Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. "I wanted so badly to get us over the hump. I know that people are looking at, 'Wow, we've come so far in three years,' but I've said this many times: You always want more."
Kentucky was aggressive in the first half, controlling possession and pushing itself consistently into the Washington State penalty box. On a play in the 41st minute, a UK cross to Kelsey Hunyadi was whistled dead when a Washington State player was called for a handball.
The play awarded UK a penalty kick, which Hunyadi netted easily for the game's first goal.
Washington State's attack finally broke through in the 56th minute, when the ball bounced around and Ali Fenter connected from the left side into the far post from 12 yards.
After scoring the equalizer, the Cougars had several chances to take the lead in regulation. Washington State controlled possession much of the second half. The Cougars had seven shots in the second half compared to the Cats' one.
Lipsitz said he sat his team back a bit halfway through the second half because wind was such a factor at Washington State's back; he knew his team's odds were much better attacking when the field switched in the first overtime.
Indeed, UK had five shots in the 10-minute first overtime compared to one in all of the 45-minute second half.
"Our adjustment in the second half, once we had the wind with us, was just: Play soccer. Let's start connecting in the midfield,' " Lipsitz said. "We really talked about getting it in their end and then play great soccer. It's time and place."
Both teams seemed to press a bit less in the second overtime, eyeing penalty kicks and opting to play without the threat of giving up a fast break going the other way. Still, the Cats came away with one shot on goal in the period, a Hunyadi far-post shot from 18 yards that sailed over the bar.
But without netting any of its overtime chances, the game was forced into penalty kicks, where the Cougars took advantage of Krohn's and Telang's misses.
"It's very, very difficult," Lipsitz said. "We're proud of where we are and I'm very proud of how we played tonight.
"You always wonder how you're going to react to a first time playing in a big game like this. We reacted admirably and very bravely against a very good team."