The No. 9 women’s soccer team will play Eastern Washington (14-3-1) in the first round of the NCAA playoffs in a rematch on Saturday at McAlister Field.
The Eagles — the champions of the Big Sky conference — had a successful season this year, finishing as the Big Sky regular season champions, besting their closest competitor by 7 points and winning the conference postseason championship, defeating Northern Colorado 3-0 in the final.
Eastern Washington is led on offense by senior forward Chloe Williams (11 goals and eight assists) and junior midfielder Jenny Chavez (8 goals), with both starting every game this season.
But entire team is prolific in the final third of the field. This season, the Eagles have accumulated 47 goals or 2.14 per game. They are also outperforming their opponents by a margin of just over 2-1 in both shots and shots on target. In addition to these statistics, Eastern Washington are constantly finding space to take shots, with the team averaging 17.5 per game.
It is not only the offense that has been strong this season, but the defense as well has been stout for Eastern Washington. The Eagles’ backline is led by senior defender M’Kenna Hayes, who has started every game she has appeared in this season, and junior defender Megan Spataro. The Eastern Washington defense has held its opponents to 24 goals this season, or 1.09 per game and 8.4 shots per game. In comparison, the USC defense has held its opponents to 9.1 shots per game and 0.83 goals per game.
This first round matchup will be a rematch of the Trojans’ first-round matchup last year, a game that the Trojans won comfortably 3-1, outshooting the Eagles 35-8 (17-4 on target), forcing the Eastern Washington goalkeeper into making 13 saves. This game also saw senior midfielder Nicole Molen score her fifth goal of the season on a header.
Although prior history would suggest that this game would be smooth sailing for the Trojans, head coach Keidane McAlpine did not share that same sentiment.
“Obviously there is a little confidence, but at the same time it’s got to be reserved,” McAlpine said. “Because every year is a little different, we’re a lot different, they are going to be different. The experience that they gained last year should pay dividends for them to be able to take the trip and know where they are staying and all the routine of coming down here to play.”
Senior forward Sydney Johnson echoed the idea, warning about being overconfident coming into the game.
“[Eastern Washington is] going to come out with a lot of energy,” Johnson said. “Every team is coming at us especially since we’re defending champs.”
With a win this weekend, the Trojans will start strong in their defense of their national championship title. If the Trojans win this weekend, they will most likely host Rice or Baylor on either Nov. 17 or 19.