KANSAS CITY – After back-to-back Big 12 Conference regular season soccer titles, West Virginia (16-3-2) will now add a 2013 Big 12 Soccer Championship trophy to the team’s haul of hardware. The Mountaineers capped off a strong showing at the conference tournament with a 1-0 victory over Oklahoma State (9-6-6) on Sunday at the Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City and will earn the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“It's always about the journey with a new team and having them experience the championships,” said Mountaineers head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “This team has really grinded all year long. We've had such adversity and for them to pull together and get this one, it's even more special.”
The top scoring team in the conference, West Virginia broke through in the 72nd minute courtesy of Ashley Lawrence. The freshman forward had struck the post in the 58th minute and would not be denied when she got on the end of Carly Black’s free kick to score her fourth goal of the season.
“It was definitely a scrappy goal,” said Izzo-Brown. “When you're inside the 18, you've just got to one-touch finish. It was a good enough goal to win.”
The Mountaineers defense, led by the Big 12’s Defensive Most Outstanding Player in centerback Kadeisha Buchanan, recorded their third shutout in as many games at the tournament thanks to a nine-save performance by senior goalkeeper Sara Keane. A senior and three-year starter, Keane’s nine saves marked a single-game career high.
“I thought Keane was unbelievable today,” Izzo-Brown said. “She was outstanding this whole tournament.”
"This was such a great team effort. It's so exciting,” Keane said. “We worked so hard this season. As a senior, it's even sweeter being my last opportunity to do so. I'm so proud of the team."
After knocking off No. 2 seed Texas Tech and No. 3 seed Texas in their previous two matches, sixth-seeded Oklahoma State threatened to upset No. 1 seed West Virginia throughout Sunday’s championship. The Mountaineers withstood a series of missed opportunities from the Cowgirls attack, including a penalty kick conceded by Leah Emaus in the 13th minute. Oklahoma State’s Madison Mercado was brought down inside the area but the sophomore playmaker sent her shot from the penalty spot wide left.
The back-and-forth finale would see 20 shots taken by each side and Lawrence led the way for West Virginia with five. None were bigger than the match-winnerwith 18 minutes remaining as she chased down the free kick at the back post and floated her first-time effort past Cowgirls goalkeeper Michela Ongaro. Lawrence was named to the All-Tournament team, adding to her All-Big 12 First Team and All-Big 12 Newcomer Team honors this season.
"I put my foot on it and prayed,” Lawrence said. “We had a lot of opportunities so I knew eventually the ball was going to end up in the net. We just had to keep pressuring and we broke through.
“It's a great feeling. It's great stepping up for the team and putting the goal away for us. We won this championship but our work has just begun."
The full NCAA Tournament field will be revealed on Monday during the Selection Show, streamed live on NCAA.com beginning at 3:30 p.m. CT.Offensive Most Outstanding Player
Frances Silva, West Virginia
Defensive Most Outstanding Player
Kadeisha Buchanan, West Virginia
GK – Sara Keane, West Virginia
D – Jaelene Hinkle, Texas Tech
D – Natalie Calhoun, Oklahoma State
D – Kadeisha Buchanan, West Virginia
MF – Paige Strahan, Texas Tech
MF – Ashley Lawrence, West Virginia
MF – Allie Stephenson, Oklahoma State
F – Janine Beckie, Texas Tech
F – Courtney Dike, Oklahoma State
F – Frances Silva, West Virginia
F – Madison Mercado, Oklahoma State