It was bound to happen at some point.
In 12 years as a Division I athletic program, Utah Valley University had never managed to get a win in an NCAA tournament contest.
Now that wait is over, thanks to a gifted group of Wolverine women’s soccer players.
UVU played stone-wall defense and made the most of a key opportunity in Wednesday’s NCAA first round game against Memphis at Johnson Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina, notching a solid 1-0 victory over the Tigers to get that first NCAA win.
“This team is special,” Wolverine junior forward Sadie Brockbank said. “Like we’ve been saying all season, this is a team that’s gonna do everything how we’ve been doing it and make history. It feels so good, especially to do it with this team.”
UVU head coach Chris Lemay said he felt a sense of accomplishment at achieving such a significant objective but the best part was seeing what it meant to his athletes.
“It’s amazing,” Lemay said. “We had players on the field crying happy tears. That’s being fully committed if it means that much to them. It’s awesome. They’re a great group. It’s easy to get up and go to work because I get to hang out with them.”
The only goal of the contest came in the 60th minute as Brockbank came up huge for the Wolverines.
She put pressure on Tiger senior keeper Elizabeth Moberg had the ball passed back to her. Moberg tried a hurried clearance but it was intercepted by UVU junior forward Julianna Carter.
Carter lofted the ball forward to senior forward Amber Tripp, who redirected it back into the middle of the field to Brockbank (who was just barely onside).
Brockbank knocked the ball down, then chipped it with her left foot perfectly over the outstretched arm of Moberg and into the net.
“I have never felt anything like that before,” Brockbank said. “It was amazing. Amber played an unbelievable ball. We knew that their keeper comes crazy off of her line and so that little chip ball in I knew would get her.”
Lemay said the scouting efforts paid big dividends in that moment.
“She’s a very, very good goalkeeper,” Lemay said. “The one area, the one chink in her armor that we found through film was that we thought she was a little ambitious off her line. We worked on putting balls in soft space, and then do one of two things: chip it or dribble past her. It was a perfect ball and she took the bait. Sadie’s probably the best player to be running on to that ball because she’s fearless. She gets there, gets a little nick on it, and that’s all it took.”
The Wolverines had a golden opportunity to go in front midway through the first half when a flick in the Memphis penalty box resulted in a hand-ball, giving UVU a penalty kick.
Wolverine sophomore midfielder Heather Stainbrook stepped up and fired but Moberg guessed right and blocked it, giving the Tigers a huge boost.
It could’ve been a game-changing moment but UVU refused to let the missed chance get them down.
“It can be tough, collectively and then certainly individually” Lemay said. “You don’t want to lose Heather Stainbrook for the rest of the match mentally because of because of one miss like that. I gave Heather some advice within the run of play, telling her that it was not going to define her match. Heather was probably one of the biggest difference-makers in the game, certainly in the second half. She started to control the tempo of the game. She’s a brilliant player and she showed it.”
Memphis had a couple of good scoring chances in the first half, one that hit off the crossbar and another that forced Wolverine senior keeper Isabel Jones-Dawe to battle through traffic to knock the ball away.
Other than those, however, the UVU defense did a great job at limiting the opportunities for the Tigers.
“The back four were impeccable today,” Lemay said. “With Isabel behind them, we’re pretty good in that part of the field. The rest of the team did well as well.”
The Wolverines now turn their attention to preparing for No. 6-seed Arkansas, which UVU will play in the NCAA second round on Friday.
That game will take place at the same location, Johnson Field in Greenville, North Carolina, with kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m. It can be seen on ESPN3.