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WVU women’s soccer team advances to Elite 8

Photo for The Dominion Post by Mark Shephard WVU’s Heather Kaleiohi battles a UCLA defender Sunday at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
Photo for The Dominion Post by Mark Shephard
WVU’s Heather Kaleiohi battles a UCLA defender Sunday at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Michelle Newhouse gave every appearance of being the calmest player on the snow-covered grass pitch, at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium, on Nov. 20.

It mattered not that the WVU junior goalkeeper was stepping into the postseason pressure cooker known as the penalty kick shootout after her top-seeded Mountaineers played to a 1-1 double-overtime draw with UCLA in an NCAA Sweet 16 matchup.

“We’ve been here before, a couple of years back in the Big 12 tournament,” she said, referencing a semifinal penalty kick shootout win over Texas. “We were pretty confident. We practice it all time.

“I just told (my teammates) they had to make their (shots), and I’ll come up with a few (saves).”

That’s precisely what happened.

The Mountaineers drilled four kicks, and Newhouse made two saves, as WVU prevailed,
4-2, on a frigid, blustery day in Morgantown.

Newhouse turned back the shots of UCLA’s Canadian Olympian, Jessie Fleming, and its sixth-year senior, Courtney Proctor.

“I, honestly, don’t even look at who is coming up,” Newhouse said. “I just try to focus on the ball and read it. I couldn’t even tell you who was taking the kicks today.”

That mindset brings a smile to WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown’s face.

“That’s Newhouse’s strength: She’s a reactionary,” Izzo-Brown said. “We’ve always had that definite confidence in her.

“She just did her thing like she’s done before to allow us to survive and advance.”

The victory propels WVU (20-1-2) on to the Elite Eight for the second straight year.

The Mountaineers will host a Duke team they beat on the road, 3-1, on Sept. 9.

Kickoff is at 3 p.m. Saturday.

“Exciting game today,” a drained Izzo-Brown said. “This team never ceases to surprise me. They have prevailed through so many different adversities and situations.

“This was just another one where this team showed their grit, their grind and their focus. It was a tough battle tonight. … It was a little bit frustrating for us. All the credit to UCLA. That was an incredible team.”

Sophomore forward Sh’Nia Gordon scored in the 23rd minute off an assist from Michaela Abam to put WVU on top, 1-0.

“I knew the conditions were going to be slick,” said Gordon, who has scored seven goals this season.

“I knew (the ball) was going to go over the goalie’s head. I tried to get my foot on it and get an early goal for us and get some momentum for my team. That helped us get in a groove.”

UCLA (15-5-2) seemed headed for a one-goal setback in regulation before stunning the Mountaineers with Fleming’s header with 1:54 to play.

WVU had dominated play up to that point. The Mountaineers held a 25-6 advantage on shots and had taken 10 shots on-goal to UCLA’s three in regulation.

The Bruins, though, did not surrender.

“The late goal was huge,” UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said. “It’s a characteristic of our team. We’ve done that already this year, scoring against Cal in the last minute.”

Izzo-Brown tried to get her players’ minds off the goal and on to overtime.

“I kept saying, ‘We have to look forward! Don’t worry about what just happened. We have to beat UCLA,’ ” she said.

“We kind of put our head down and decided what we needed to do moving forward.”

Cromwell believed her team possessed the momentum entering overtime, but the Mountaineers quickly snatched it back.

“In the first overtime, they were all over us,” Cromwell said. “We were lucky to get out of that one.”

The Bruins changed formations in the second overtime to try to sneak a game-winning goal past Newhouse and the Mountaineers.

WVU held strong, sending the contest into a penalty kick shootout — a scenario both coaches wanted to avoid. Neither is a fan of penalty kicks deciding games.

“It’s a crapshoot,” Cromwell said. “You would never guess Jessie Fleming, an Olympian, would miss hers. … Courtney Proctor, a sixth-year senior, is in there devastated that she missed one of the PKs.”

Carla Portillo, Ashley Lawrence, Amandine Pierre-Louis and Kadeisha Buchanan drilled their kicks to nail down the WVU win and a date with Duke in the next round.

“Both teams have some familiarity with each other and some understanding of each other,” Izzo-Brown said.

“There’s been a long season between the last time we were up at Duke. … We know we’re going to have our hands full. That is an exceptionally talented Duke team.”

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