By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
ROHNERT PARK — Add resiliency to the Sonoma State women’s soccer resume as the nation’s second-ranked team stayed unbeaten with Friday’s win over rival and perennial powerhouse Chico State.
Down a goal soon after the opening kickoff, Sonoma State overcame its first deficit of the season and took control in the second half for a 2-1 victory at home. What remained the same was the Seawolves’ speed and strength in wearing down an opponent.
“We like to run teams into the ground,” said Sara Studer, who had the winning goal. “It’s never an easy game with Chico. We refused to lose.”
In a season that keeps getting better, Sonoma State played solid, sometimes spectacular soccer after a sluggish start. Attacking a defense packed in to rebuff runs, the Seawolves still reached their scoring aim for each game. The defense limited Chico State to four shots on goal,none in the second half.
“They were beating us to a lot of balls. They just outworked us,” said Chico State forward Shelby Dunlap. “It was a really tough loss.”
The win was sweet for the Seawolves’ seniors, who endured four losses and two ties against Chico State the past three seasons. More important, the victory marked another milestone in the march toward an anticipated conference title and NCAA tournament run.
Still, with more than a month to go in the California Collegiate Athletic Association campaign, Sonoma State players recognize ways to improve. The pressure of remaining among the best in NCAA Division II is powerful motivation.
“You see the rankings. We feel a little pressure here and there,” said forward Elena Catania, from Montgomery High. “We try to be as prepared as we can be for each game. We’re not really the underdogs anymore.”
Defeating conference rival Chico State, which reached last season’s national final four, is another confidence boost for Sonoma State in its quest to reach the NCAA tournament after a four-year absence.
The winning formula for Sonoma State has been getting ahead and dominating opponents. Chico State spoiled that scenario early in Friday’s contest.
Just 27 seconds into the match, Chico State struck first. Following a quick throw-in, the Wildcats sent the ball into the corner where Dunlap floated a cross into the box and Scotie Walker chipped it over Sonoma State goalkeeper Alexis Sciacqua.
Some two minutes later, Sonoma State answered when a cross from Studer bounced off the upright and Cara Curtin knocked the ball in for her conference-leading eighth goal.
While the Seawolves would take twice as many shots in the first half, few were on goal as the Wildcats frustrated the Sonoma State offensive push. Chico State kept four defenders back with a midfielder playing defense to help cut off passes and limit give-and-go opportunities.
“They’re a tough team to score on,” said Curtin, out of Maria Carrillo high. “Sometimes we kind of force the ball too much.”
The best scoring chances came in the last 10 minutes with JJ McFarlin, from Santa Rosa High, providing some spark off the bench.
A quick second half start dispelled any doubts that Sonoma State is a top team.
Moving All-West Region selection Sara Studer from defender to forward, Sonoma State paired another speed burner with Curtin to pressure Chico State’s defense.
The senior from Oceanside goes up top as needed.
“We were tentative and playing cautious. This was the first game where we had to look ourselves in the eyes and know we could play with anyone,” Studer said.
The game-winning sequence began with Curtin taking the defense deep. After recovering her own blocked kick, Curtin fed back to Ashley Martin, who sent it long onto Studer’s feet. Punching the ball past a defender, Studer ran onto it and booted a shot around the sliding Chico State goalkeeper.
The remaining 40 plus minutes of soccer often featured Sonoma State attacking deep to the corners and end line to set up crosses and shots.
Chico State chased on defense. When the Wildcats couldn’t clear balls, goalkeeper Brianna Furner made leaping and diving saves.
“I knew there were going to be a lot of shots today. I just wanted to keep my team in the game,” Furner said.
Sonoma State’s midfield led by Gretel Amman, from Montgomery high, and back line, anchored by Carolyn Greco and Bree Robles, from Ursuline, stymied Chico State.
Sciacqua, the keeper out of Montgomery high, cleaned up the few shots and stayed sharp after Chico State’s early score.
“We’ve had a great start,” Catania said. “We’ve worked hard for it.”