Gonzaga’s five game losing streak may have felt like an eternity for the players. But it took less than ten minutes for the Zags (5-7-2, 1-4-0) to break through for a 2-1 win over Saint Mary’s (2-12-2, 0-5-0) on Friday night at Luger Field.
At 9:09, the Zags scored first when an SMC defender misplayed the ball at the top of the Gaels’ goal box. Taylor Kernion took the undefended ball and struck it into the top right corner of the net to score her second goal of the season.
“That was important because [giving up the first goal] has been a little bit of our Achilles heel in some of the close losses,” Coach Amy Edwards said. “After we got the first goal you see a real change in the energy and the confidence started to rise.”
The Zags picked up their first conference win of the season, and the Gaels extended their losing streak to five games. SMC remains winless in conference play.
The match developed a frantic pace early on. Both teams sent a number of through-balls past the defenders and challenged the line of defense.
After the first goal, the Zags pressed their momentum and fired off two more shots. The Gaels registered the next four shots on goal, but failed to put one through in the first half.
SMC’s first scoring opportunity of the second half came on a Jaylen Crim break-away, but Kristen Standish caught up in time to slide tackle the ball out of bounds. In a span of four minutes, the Gaels took two corner kicks and a free kick, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
Mari Kneisel scored her second goal of the season, with an assist from Karley Baggerly, at 59:33 to extend GU’s lead. Kneisel kicked the ball into the left side of the goal just before keeper Julia McDonald could reach it.
Up two goals, Edwards knew that the Zags couldn’t let up.
“As I told them, 2-0 is one of the toughest leads to have in soccer,” Edwards said. “Are you still grinding or do you let [the other team] back in?”
SMC struck back at 75:35 when Samantha Dion headed Hannah Diaz’s corner kick into the bottom right corner of the goal.
The Gaels upped the intensity in the final ten minutes of the game.
“I think the game got really gritty,” keeper Sarah Swanson said. “It came down to who was going to work hardest for it, and I think tonight proved how hard we can work.”
Swanson stopped two shots on goal in the last five minutes of play. SMC nearly tied the score at 85:05 when a deflected ball nearly found its way into the top of the net, but Swanson’s save sealed the Zags’ victory.
Up Next: The Zags play their final home game of the season against University of the Pacific on Oct. 23at 1 p.m. at Luger Field. GU will honor nine seniors for Senior’s Day.