The Charlotte 49ers women's soccer team pulled off a win over the top seed in the east division, Western Kentucky, to advance to the Conference USA tournament finals.
"We're delighted to get the win," said Head Coach John Cullen after the game. "We are immensely proud of every player, and once again, they showed their qualities in different ways throughout a tough semifinal."
Great play from both sides of the ball was key in the 49er victory. Charlotte's win continues a hot streak for the team, and they will look to capture the title on Saturday.
In the first half, the goalie play from senior Abby Stapleton was outstanding and thwarted the early attack of the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky was able to get three shots on goal in the first 11 minutes, but due to Stapleton, the team was unable to convert on any of these opportunities.
The 49ers finally were able to show their offensive attack in the 14th minute as Piper Biziorek would get a shot on goal, but it was saved. In the 26th minute, Michaella Arteta once again broke free with a shot but was unable to put it through the net.
In the early going, it seemed that both teams were in a stalemate for control of the game but in the 31st minute, the whole outlook of the game changed. Biziorek put the Niners up on the scoreboard after she received a good look and netted a goal, scoring her second goal of the season. The momentum shifted back to the Charlotte side.
In the remaining minutes, both teams continued to go back and forth. The offenses only combined for two shots in the final 14 minutes. The game was up for grabs as halftime approached.
In the second half, Charlotte came out of the gate, firing at all cylinders. An early shot from Ariana Maibodi gave her team confidence to stay on the offensive attack, even though her shot was saved. The team continued to look for an insurance goal.
The Hilltoppers continued to struggle on the offensive side of the ball. Western Kentucky was shut down on numerous opportunities as Stapleton continued her stellar play.
A foul on Western Kentucky inside their box in the 71st minute gave the Niners the chance to add to their lead that they were looking for. Arteta was given the opportunity to extend the lead for the team, and she did just that, putting the ball into the back of the net. It would be her fourth goal of the season, and Charlotte led 2-0 with less than 20 minutes left.
The Hilltoppers were shut down and couldn't get back into the game. Western Kentucky had five shots in the final 20 minutes, but they were blocked by defenders or went wide of the net. The Niners took the win in a hard-fought game over the top seed in the east division.
Coach Cullen credited a strong defense for the win and was optimistic about the team's chances on Saturday in the final. The team improves to 6-5 with the win.
"A solid defense gives you a platform to build and attack the opposition," said Cullen. "Once again, it starts with Abby and the backline. As a unit, they were superb."
The next game for the Niners will be on Saturday, April 17 at 1 p.m. as they will take on the top seed in the west division, Rice. This is the final of the C-USA tournament, and there will be an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.