Utah State graduate senior Nicole Hadlock-Hardy celebrates during her team’s 2-0 victory over UNLV in a women’s soccer game on Oct. 19, 2023. Photo by Tina Lerohl
LOGAN, Utah — Utah State soccer (14-7-1, 9-2 MW) punched its ticket to the NCAA Championships and earned its first-ever Mountain West title with a 1-0 win over Colorado State in the MW Championships title match Saturday afternoon at Madrid Sports Complex.
The Aggies will continue what has already been a historic 2023 campaign with the team’s third-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, earning the league’s auto-bid.
Four Utah State players earned a spot on the Mountain West All-Tournament team, highlighted by senior midfielder Whitney Lopez, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player after scoring the extra time game-winner against Boise State in the semifinals. Other Aggies to earn all-tournament recognition include graduate goalkeeper Diera Walton, junior defender Addy Symonds-Weichers and sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Richins.
In a battle between two of the league’s top defensive sides, it was a 78th minute goal from USU freshman forward Kate Christian that made the difference in the 1-0 victory. This was Christian’s second game-winning goal in just three matches, as she was the lone goal scorer in the team’s regular-season finale victory at Boise State.
Utah State turned defense into offense, using a breakaway in transition to create the goal for Christian. Sophomore forward Tess Werts perfectly placed a touch near midfield past the Ram backline to a streaking Christian, who sent a right-footed dart beyond the diving reach of CSU’s keeper.
The 2-seed Aggies came out strong, as the USU defense, which had held its opponents to just one goal in the previous six matches, held CSU without a shot on goal for the first 36 minutes of action. Utah State controlled the pace in the first half, out-shooting the Rams 6-2 through the first 45 minutes. In total, the Aggies out-shot Colorado State 13-5, while Walton earned the clean sheet after playing all 90 minutes in net.
Utah State soccer will be making its first NCAA Championship appearance since 2012, and just its third in program history, when the Aggies travel to Provo, Utah, to face 1-seed BYU. The teams will face off Friday, Nov. 10, at 6 p.m., at BYU’s South Field.
“It’s exciting, this is what our student-athletes came to Utah State to be able to accomplish,” said Utah State head coach Manny Martins. “This is what we’ve worked hard for since the beginning of our preseason. It’s not something that we talk about constantly, but it’s the goal. I think they’re a deserving group. They’ve worked hard throughout the season, they’ve grown throughout the season, and I think at this point we’re a group that certainly belongs.
Utah State punched its ticket to the tournament by winning the Mountain West Championships last week to earn the league’s auto-bid. The Aggies secured their first-ever MW title with a 1-0 win over Colorado State on Nov. 4 in the championship match.
“We’re so excited that we get the opportunity to be here, we’ve worked so hard this season,” said senior midfielder Whitney Lopez. “We knew we would make it because we’ve been dreaming about this and manifesting it. We’re all very excited.”
The Aggies were one of just two teams to defeat BYU (16-2-3, 7-0-3 Big 12) this season, earning a 1-0 win over the Cougars on Sept. 16 in Logan. In three years under Martins, USU is undefeated against BYU with a 2-0-1 mark.
Led by Martins, who was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year, the Aggies won a program-record nine league games this year and are currently 14-7-1 overall, the second-most wins in team history. USU had four all-MW selections, including MW Defensive Player of the Year Kelsey Kaufusi.
Utah State enters postseason play riding high with seven-straight wins, the fourth-longest winning streak in program history. During that streak, USU has allowed just a single goal, outscoring its opponents by a combined 12-1. This season, the Aggies have 10 shutouts while allowing just 0.72 goals per contest, both marks which rank third in team history.
This is the second time that USU and BYU will meet in the postseason. The teams faced off in 2012 in Provo, a 2-1 win for the 2-seed Cougars.
Should the Aggies defeat BYU, they will move on to face the winner of Grand Canyon and 8-seed USC in the second round on Friday, Nov. 17.