TAMPA – After Cal-State Dominguez Hills began believing in themselves, they started making believers out of their opponents.
The latest side to fall to the No.15-ranked Toros was the biggest scalp in their run to the NCAA Division II Women’s championship game, as No.1 West Florida saw its perfect season come to an end 4-1 in a shootout after the two sides played to a 1-1 tie after regulation and overtime at Pepin-Rood Stadium on Thursday night.
“I think just us believing in ourselves has gotten us this far,” Toros midfielder Melissa Livergood said. “Believing in our teammates, and pushing ourselves has got us here.”
Livergood confidently struck home the shootout goal that sealed the victory for the Toros after an intense 110-minute contest where neither side was able to gain the upper hand. She followed teammates Paige Peel, Karina Jahn and Brooke Thompson, who also converted, while CSDH goalkeeper Alyssa Congdon saved from Marcela Franco after West Florida’s Dernelle Mascall had shot wide in the opening round.
Congdon’s play all night was critical for the Toros, she finished with nine saves, and with each one it appeared her side’s confidence grew a little stronger. Her defense was also excellent in front of her, making things difficult for recently named Division II Player of the Year Shakira Duncan and 2008 award winner Shaneka Gordon.
“I’ve worked with my defense the whole season here,” Congdon said, “and I think we’ve played together as a team, and we work well together, and we’re confident with each other’s play, so I think that was what helped us push through at the end of the day.”
West Florida coach Joe Bartlinski was impressed with the defensive toughness the Toros exhibited, holding his swift forwards in check for most of the game.
“All credit, obviously, to Dominguez Hills,” Bartlinski said. “They worked very hard to make it difficult all night on our players.”
That tight defensive unit couldn’t keep the Argonauts, who entered the game averaging over five goals per game, off the board completely. West Florida opened the scoring when Duncan latched onto a pass from Gordon for a 36th-minute lead. CSDH hit back just under two minutes before halftime, though, as Yadira Gomez fired home after West Florida goalkeeper Courtney Jones was unable to reel in a corner from the right, leaving an empty net for Gomez to shoot into.
The game opened up more in the second half, with West Florida still appearing the more dangerous side as Congdon saved sharply diving to her right to turn a shot from Shameka Gordon around the post for a corner. It was the Toros, though, who had the best opportunity to end the game once it moved into overtime as Jahn almost capitalized on a quick build-up by Gomez and Jessica Murphy, only to see her shot come back off the left post.
The near-miss didn’t discourage Toros coach Joe Flanagan, though, who was thrilled with the effort his side put forth.
“I didn’t think that was going to be our only chance,” Flanagan said. “The way the game was going, I thought both teams were going to have other chances.”
None were taken before overtime expired, leading to the Toros' shootout victory and Flanagan gaining an opportunity for what may be a unique double. After leading the CSDH men’s program to a Division II National title last season in Tampa, he is now one win away from taking with the women’s side this season.
“It would be amazing,” Flanagan said. “My girls have been in the shadows of the guys for the past four or five years, and it’s been an emotional season for many reasons. They’ve got to a level at the right time, and played at the top of their game at the right time. To be 5-0 in the playoffs now, and playing against the top teams in the country and be on the national stage and playing at the level they’re playing at, I couldn’t be prouder.”