If the Aggies go on to defend their Western Athletic Conference regular season and tournament soccer titles, their defense will certainly be a huge reason why.
Utah State certainly defended extremely well on the road against red hot Denver on Sunday afternoon. The Aggies battled to a scoreless draw against the Pioneers, who are ranked 18th nationally in the Soccer America poll.
“They’re a fantastic attacking team,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “They throw numbers at you, they’re interchanging, they’re combining, they’re dribbling and they have a very diverse and effective attack. And our defenders did a great job, our team as a whole did a great job defensively and Jeannie Woller stepped in and was phenomenal. ... Jeannie Woller rose to the occasion big time today.”
Indeed, the Aggies (5-2-6, 0-0-2), who have played to three straight draws, received an outstanding performance from Woller in just her second career start. The freshman was inserted into the starting lineup because senior goalkeeper Ashlyn Mulford was issued a red card in Friday’s scoreless draw at New Mexico State.
Woller made six saves for USU, including a couple of the difficult variety, Cairns said, and commanded her box on set pieces like a grizzled veteran.
The Pioneers (9-1-3, 1-0-1) entered Sunday’s showdown having scored 12 goals in their previous four matches, including three in a 3-1 road victory over then-No. 13 Portland. USU is only the second team to shut out Denver this season.
It was the fifth shutout for the Aggies, who have not yielded more than a single goal in any match in 2012 — and three of those games were against ranked opponents.
“Mari Miyashiro was fantastic on both sides of the ball,” Cairns said. “... You know, (center backs) Natalie Norris and Taryn Rose were studs. You don’t keep a great attack like that and a great attacker like their No. 17 off the board without some exceptionally good performances. But yeah, there were a lot of good performances all the way around.”
No. 17 is 2011 Sun Belt Player of the Year Kristen Hamilton, who scored 16 goals and dished out nine assists a year ago. Hamilton, who played a whopping 109 minutes Sunday, currently leads the WAC with eight goals and is a bona fide All-America candidate.
Miyashiro missed giving USU a 1-0 lead by a fraction in the 12th minute when her 25-yard free kick struck the crossbar. The junior also had a shot from well inside the 18-yard box stopped by a diving Denver keeper Lara Campbell in the final minute of double overtime.
Jackie Tillotson barely missed high on a shot in the first half for the Aggies, Cairns said.
The high-powered Pioneers outshot the Aggies 24-10, but only enjoyed a 6-3 advantage in shots on goal. Denver’s Taylor Ivins pinged a six-yard shot off the right post early in the second half.
“It was a well-played game on both ends,” Cairns said. “I would say in general we defended a little bit more than we attacked, but in terms of the quality of our attack it was some of the best attacking soccer that we’ve played this season.”
Denver, unbeaten since a season-opening 1-0 loss to Colorado College, had 10 corner kicks to USU’s one, but the Aggies were up to the challenge.
“Defensively, we held strong again, and it was just two teams fighting tooth and nail to earn points in conference play,” Cairns said. “It was an awesome match.”