Despite loss in regular-season finale, Pepperdine gets at-large berth, will face second-ranked Stanford
The Pepperdine Waves women’s soccer team is lacing up its cleats for the big dance.
The Waves will take on second-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto on Friday at 6 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament.
Pepperdine’s postseason prospects were up in the air after the Gonzaga Bulldogs beat them 3-1 on Nov. 4 to win the West Coast Conference title and secure an automatic bid to the tournament.
Waves’ players were in tears and the mood among their fans was sober as Gonzaga players celebrated their win at Pepperdine’s Tari Frahm Rokus Field.
The Waves had five ties in the first two months of the season but won seven of their last nine contests.
Pepperdine head coach Tim Ward hoped the tournament decision makers would realize how much his squad had improved since the season’s start in August and consider them for the tournament’s 64-team field.
“Early in the year, we weren’t all the way healthy,” he said. “We weren’t the team we became at the end. The reason we played well down the stretch is we found our collective fitness, we found our identity, and we got a lot of our playmakers back. The run we have been on was no accident.”
This is the second time in the three seasons the Waves have qualified for the NCAA tournament. The squad advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2022. Ward has coached Pepperdine to 13 NCAA tournament appearances.
Striker Gian Riley scored all of Gonzaga’s goals in their win over Pepperdine. Gonzaga goalkeeper Lauren Towne had five saves and anchored a strong defense. Taylor Rath, a redshirt sophomore goalkeeper, collected five saves for Pepperdine. Redshirt freshman midfielder Kyra Murphy booted in the Waves’ score.
Ward said Pepperdine started the contest playing slow but poured their hearts and souls in the game.
“Maybe the weight of the occasion sometimes — everybody was hyped but heavy,” he said. “In critical periods of the game, their energy was better than ours.”
Gonzaga took the lead in the fourth minute when Riley kicked her first goal. Ward said Pepperdine had scouted and prepared for the play Riley scored on.
“This inversion on a throw in,” he said. “When that happens you just shake your head.”
Riley scored again in the 19th minute on a free kick. Before halftime, Rath nabbed back-to-back saves in the 28th minute.
A strike kicked by Waves senior midfielder and forward Tori Waldeck early in the second half was waived off due to a late offsides call by officials. The play had Pepperdine’s sideline and fans up in arms.
In the 58th minute, Waves sophomore midfielder Karina Gonzalez received the ball from Waldeck. Gonzalez lured Towne away from the goal and then passed the ball to Murphy. Murphy tapped the ball in the net.
When Gonzalez saw Waldeck with the ball between her cleats, she moved to the back post area around Gonzaga’s goal.
“Most of the defenders never watch the blind spot,” Gonzalez explained. “I know a lot of times the balls go through, so I was like, ‘I’ll get the trash,’ and that’s what I ended up doing. I found Kyra Murphy to make sure it went in, and she just redirected it.”
The Waves weren’t bashful about kicking the ball in attempts to score Pepperdine took 16 shots (10 after halftime), including seven shots on goal, compared to the Bulldogs’ 10 shots, including eight on goal.
However, they were unable to score again. A header by defender and forward Alex Sampson, a redshirt junior, hit the crossbar.
Riley hit the ball with her head for Gonzaga’s final point in the 73rd minute when Rath was out of the net.
Pepperdine changed formations three times in the contest.
“Our team is best when we are playing in spaces the other team is not,” Ward noted. The coach said Riley was the difference maker in the contest.
The Waves, Gonzalez said, didn’t stop kicking for victory when they were down.
“You could really see that in the second half with the intensity and pressure and the goal,” she noted.
Pepperdine ended the regular season with a 9-4-5 record including a 6-2 record in the WCC.
The winner of the Pepperdine and Stanford match will face James Madison or seventh-seeded South Carolina in the second round.
Ward is proud of the Waves.
“We are a super amazing team,” he said.
enjoy a ride at his most recent trip to the theme park