Soccer, Sports

‘Niners have sights set on Sweet 16

The Long Beach State women’s soccer team will look to continue rewriting history as it attempts to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when it takes on the University of Miami on Friday.

Along with their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory last Saturday, junior forward Nadia Link’s game-winner in overtime marked her 16th goal of the season, which tied the 27-year-old school record set by Annette Fernandez.

The Beach (16-5-1) took the game down to the wire against Pepperdine last Saturday. Link’s goal came with just 13 seconds remaining in the first overtime period of a scoreless match. Pepperdine was ranked No. 7 in the nation in the most recent top 25 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll. The goal also marked the first the ‘Niners have ever scored in their three NCAA Tournament matches.

“Nadia’s goal was world class,” LBSU head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “But, I’ve seen her do that a few times this year and I just couldn’t be more proud of her.”

The Hurricanes (10-7-1) are also coming off a first-round victory, defeating the University of Alabama in double overtime, 3-2.

Junior forward Kate Howarth leads Miami in points (26), goals (10) and assists (6), and ranks second on the squad in shots on goal percentage (.442). She also leads the team with three game-winning goals this season.

The Hurricanes posted a poor conference record of 3-6-1, but to their credit, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) sent more teams (9) to the NCAA Tournament than any other conference. They also showed their strength in non-conference action where they went 6-1, including an undefeated road record of 4-0 in those games.

“I watched them beat BYU [on the road] on TV earlier this season, so that’s impressive,” Ingrassia said. “I liked the way they played and moved the ball around.”

Indeed, when the Hurricanes defeated BYU earlier this season, the Cougars were on a 10-match winning streak.

Miami also has impressive conference victories over Boston College and the University of Maryland — two teams that were ranked in the most recent NSCAA top 25 poll. Of the six conference losses for the Hurricanes, four of them were to teams ranked in the top 10 of the NSCAA poll.

The Hurricanes have had trouble scoring, though, ranking ninth out of 11 teams in the ACC in points, goals, and assists. Miami has also showed signs of being a very aggressive team by leading the ACC this season in fouls committed (207) and yellow cards issued (18).

The ‘Niners have been on a tear in the last 15 matches, posting a 12-2-1 record and have their season-high for most consecutive games won (6). During this span, the 49ers have also outscored their opponents, 33-9, recorded eight shutout victories, and defeated two top 25-ranked opponents.

“Our team knows who they are and what they need to stay away from,” Ingrassia said. “They’ve had some good tests this year and they understand the importance of following the game plan. They’ve got good mentality and balance, and we’ve got a good senior group, but we’re always the underdog.”

The location of the match, which favors LBSU, will take place on a neutral site at UCLA’s Drake Stadium — less than 35 miles away from Long Beach. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. with the victor moving on to face the winner of the second-round matchup between No. 2-seeded UCLA and University of San Diego.

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