After advancing past conference No. 1 South Dakota State 2-1 Thursday, the North Dakota State Bison had their season ended by the University of Denver in the Summit League Championship game Saturday. The Pioneers 2-1 victory clinched them an automatic berth to the NCAA College Cup.
After getting their feet under them in the first 10 minutes, both sides broke out, and the game featured more end-to-end action. Malley O’Brien, the Bison’s leader in goals and points with seven and 15 respectively, was halted in the box with a look at goal. Denver broke out and, immediately afterward, Hannah Adler fired wide for the Pioneers.
The Bison had two clear looks at the net within two minutes of each other. Mariah Haberle cut in from the left side, nutmegging her defender, but her ensuing shot narrowly missed the near post. In the 17th minute, Holly Enderle was sprung free on a through pass from the midfield, but like Haberle, her effort went wide.
While the Bison looked primed for another upset in the opening 20 minutes, Denver answered the bell to close the half. The Pioneers asserted themselves and had the better of the possession, causing the chances NDSU had enjoyed to dry up.
The game remained deadlocked until Denver broke through in the 32nd minute. Meg Halvorson drove to the net from midfield and found Jessie Dancy on the left side. Dancy took the pass with one touch and slotted it in the far corner past an outstretched Monica Polgar.
The Bison would remain off the board in the first half, taking only three shots, none of which were on frame.
Head coach Mark Cook made two key changes entering the second half. The Bison moved away from the 4-4-1-1 formation deployed in the first half and switched to a 4-3-3 arrangement. The new alignment gave the Bison a better look in the attack almost immediately.
Pivotal in the new formation was redshirt freshman Julia Densmore. The defender checked in at the onset of the second half and was immediately responsible for two consecutive chances for the Bison. Densmore took two shots on goal within 90 seconds of each other, both of which were handled by Denver netminder Brittany Wilson.
The Bison came forward with much more menace in the second half, primarily out of desperation.
The Herd’s presence in Denver’s half finally paid off in the 83rd minute. Britney Monteon broke off a run down the right side of the field and was all alone with Wilson. Monteon cut in to elude the goalkeeper, but Wilson tripped the forward, giving the Bison a penalty kick. Roxy Roemer stepped up to the spot for the Bison and fired the equalizer into the back of the net.
NDSU’s moment of jubilation quickly evaporated, however. Just two minutes removed from their breakthrough, NDSU’s defense, which allowed only six shots all game and had turned Denver away in the second half, broke down.
The Pioneers, searching to end the game in regulation, sent Dancy and Angelica Pacheco forward on attack. The two found themselves alone in front of an empty net after Bailey Lervick’s failed header clearance forced Polgar out of her net. Pacheco brought the ball down and scored the crushing goal for Denver in the 85th minute.
“Soccer is one of those games where the better team doesn’t always get a result,” Cook said after the devastating loss. “We showed who we are today. We battled and competed and fought. We gave it everything we had until the last minute, and unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
For the Bison, coming up short in the tournament after bouncing their rival and No. 1 SDSU, will be a tough pill to swallow. However, Cook’s young squad will be in position to make another run at a Summit League title in 2018.