When the Idaho soccer team headed to Fresno, Calif. for the WAC tournament it did so with the confidence to bring back its first conference championship in program history, despite being seeded fifth.
That was until the Vandals ran into No. 1 seeded Utah State, falling 1-0 to the Aggies who are favored to win the entire tournament.
Idaho played Utah State tight playing to a scoreless draw deep into the second half until the Aggies took advantage of a counter attack opportunity to score the winning goal.
“We just got caught off guard and they countered our throw in really quick. They caught us on our heels,” Junior defender Lauren Layton said. “It’s disappointing we had that let down on defense.”
The match was somewhat similar to one played weeks prior in Moscow between the two teams, also played scoreless until the half until Utah State broke out with second half goals. The difference was Friday afternoon Idaho kept up their pace of play deep into the second half believing it could pull off the upset.
“Knowing that it was 0-0 people were extremely positive. People were determined. We knew we had to get the ball moving in the second half. We had a positive mentality going into the second half for sure,” Layton said.
Instead, Idaho coach Pete Showler says his team fell inches short despite playing as well as Utah State.
“This difference is we controlled the play most of the game. Our girls completely out played them. That’s what makes it more disappointing and harder to take,” Showler said. “I told them it’s tough to lose at this stage of the tournament. But hold their heads up high because I’m very proud of them.”
The Vandals earned their way into the semi-finals by defeating San Jose State a day earlier, the first conference tournament victory in program history. Last season, the Vandals were one and done in the tournament losing to Fresno State in their first match.
“Last year’s tournament we were just excited to be there. We were still pretty young,” Layton said. “This year we came in with the mentality that we wanted to win it and that we wanted to compete.”
Idaho’s road to the conference championship was derailed by a Utah State team that finished with the best record in the WAC, and a team that Idaho had lost to 3-0 earlier in the season.
“At the end of the day their record is a very good record and it’s a good record for a reason,” Showler said. “I’ll give credit where credit is due. They stick to what they’re good at and they do it will.”
Still, Showler says the Vandals were completely capable of victory on this day.
“There’s a lot of parity in women’s soccer. I think that’s become more and more evident in every conference. Ours is no different. On any day any team can win those games,” he said.
The Vandals look to go into next season with momentum from their tournament run. Every player who logged minutes in the conference tournament returns next season.
“It wasn’t meant to be this year,” Showler said. “We’re going to be more competitive, more depth and more strength next season.”