It took a trio of crucial plays for the Utah Valley women's soccer team to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017.
But Wolverine sophomore defender Jenna Shepherd, senior keeper Isabel Jones-Dawe and senior defender Cassidy McCormick were up to the task.
They came up with a couple of key saves and a big penalty-kick finish to propel UVU to the 1-0 win over Seattle in Saturday's WAC Championship match in Phoenix.
"We are absolutely thrilled," Wolverine head coach Chris Lemay told the WAC Digital Network broadcast after the win. "I couldn't be more happy for this group of young women because I love them and I'm so proud of them."
The first big moments for UVU were on the defensive end of the field as the Redhawks — the No. 2 seed who tied the Wolverines for first place in the regular season — had a pair of dangerous chances to go in front.
The first was a corner kick where the ball bounced around in the box with a couple of Seattle players tapping it around until Redhawk junior midfielder Bailey Hall flicked it past the Jones-Dawe, who was sliding in.
It was headed straight for the mouth of the goal except that Shepherd — a former American Fork star who was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year — calmly kicked it off the line.
Seattle had a chance on the rebound but the follow went wide and the game remained scoreless.
In the 20th minute, the Redhawks had another chance when Hall stole a UVU pass just outside the Wolverine penalty box and had a clean look.
Her shot was rifled toward the top of the net but this time it was Jones-Dawe who came up big. She leapt in the air and stretched out to get a hand on the ball, tipping it over the top and out of danger.
Those saves kept the game scoreless in the first half and, although the Wolverines came out stronger after halftime, it remained that way until less than 15 minutes remained.
"At halftime we adjusted a couple of things," Lemay told the WAC Digital Network. "We talked about tempo and movement off the ball. We talked about trying to play our brand of soccer, which is what got us here but we had some how forgotten for three halves. In the final half, we executed really, really well."
UVU got a high, drifting cross from freshman defender Grace Beeston (a Skyridge grad) that created problems in the Seattle penalty box.
It bounced, allowing Wolverine sophomore midfielder Heather Stainbrook to come charging in. She collided with a Redhawk defender and the ball bounced free.
Another Seattle defender touched it but UVU senior midfielder Breanna DeWaal swooped in and pushed it away. The Redhawk then clipped DeWaal, drawing the whistle and early the golden opportunity from the penalty spot.
Lemay told McCormick — who made a pressure-packed penalty kick in the shootout win over New Mexico State in the semifinals on Thursday — to step in and take it.
"It means the world to me that my coach trusted me to take that PK," McCormick told the WAC Digital Network broadcast. "I'm on Cloud-9, honestly."
She slowly approached the ball, noted the move from the Seattle keep to over McCormick's left and easily slid the ball inside the right post for the game's only goal.
"I've done it before all the time in practice," McCormick told the WAC Digital Network broadcast. "It was just another PK. It could be the game-winner and it was, but I knew I could do it."
That turned out to be all the scoring UVU needed as the defense kept the Redhawks from equalizing for the rest of the match.
That meant the Wolverines got to celebrate when the final whistle blew.
"It's amazing," McCormick told the WAC Digital Network broadcast. "I couldn't ask for a better team or a better year. It's my senior year and it's the best to be able to continue on. This is great."
UVU will now wait to see how things will shake out as the Wolverines prepare for the third trip in program history to the NCAA tournament. The entire tournament will be played in the Cary, North Carolina, area with the first rounds taking place on April 27-28.
The matchups will be announced on Monday at 11 a.m. on NCAA.com.