Pioneers taste Sweet 16
The University of Denver came within one minute of seeing its season end on Friday.
But the Pioneers earned a last-minute penalty kick to tie the Maryland Terrapins and send the NCAA women’s soccer tournament match into overtime. Three and a half minutes later Nicholette DiGiacomo fired home the game winner on a cross from Kristen Hamilton, sending the Pioneers into the Sweet 16.
For DiGiacomo, the game winner also completed her hat trick in the 3-2 win. For the Pioneers, it was a historic win that moved the team deeper into the tournament than ever before.
“It’s always tough when you give up the first one,” head coach Jeff Hooker said. “They started a little bit better than we did, and we didn’t start how we wanted to. At halftime, I thought the girls were saying the right things, doing the right things and their body language was great. I tweaked the formation a little bit and we ended up getting more of the ball. We’ve been down two goals before and they never panicked, we kept trying to play.”
While the Pioneers now face the daunting task of taking on top-seeded and defending national champion Stanford University — on Stanford’s home field no less — the DU women have to feel good about their chances after the stunning reversal of fortune on Friday.
Early Calamity: Playing in Stanford, Calif., the Pioneers fell behind in the fifth minute on a rebound goal by Hayley Brock. Maryland (14-7-2) added to its lead in the 60th minute when Becky Kaplan connected with a pass from Aubrey Baker and fired home.
Lifeline: Looking like it was time to pack for home, DU halved the lead when DiGiacomo’s flick header off a long free kick from Sam Harder flew past ‘keeper Rachelle Beanlands in the 68th minute.
The Pioneers (17-2-4) kept probing for an equalizer, but Beanlands denied Nikki Pappalardo and DiGiacomo. The opportunity finally came when forward Kalie Vaughn beat her defender to the end line and was wrapped up in the area. DiGiacomo’s penalty kick was tipped by Beanlands, but the ball still found the back of the net.
Records: DiGiacomo’s hat trick was the first for a DU woman in the NCAA tournament. With the win, Denver’s record in the tourney is now 3-7. DU faces Stanford in the round of 16 at 2 p.m. on Sunday.