EVANS, Ga. – A different result required a new approach Thursday for the UC San Diego women’s soccer team against Grand Valley State in the Division II soccer championship semifinals at Blanchard Woods Park.

Tritons coach Brian McManus knew it going in, so he sent his team on the attack from the outset. He watched with pride as the Tritons built a lead early in the second half and then withstood a furious rally by the Lakers to post a 2-1 victory that sends them into Saturday’s national championship game.

 Prior to Thursday, the last time UCSD had met Grand Valley was in the DII championship game in 2010. The end result wasn’t pretty then, as GVSU pounded UCSD 4-0. McManus liked what he saw this time around a whole lot better.

“It was a hell of a game. I thought the first half, we set out to go at them,” McManus said. “From our experience [two] years ago, when we played them and they beat us 4-0, we were either going to come here and sit back and defend – or do what we do and have a go at them, attack them. And if they’re that good, they’ll beat us.”

Make no mistake. After a sluggish first half, Grand Valley was plenty good. Twice in the final nine minutes after the Lakers pulled to within one on a goal by leading scorer Ashley Botts, they narrowly missed tying the game.

Once, a try by Grand Valley’s Maria Brown soared just above the goal and out of bounds. A minute later, a shot by Kelley Fiscus glanced off freshman goalkeeper Kelcie Brodsky’s fingertips and then off the top crossbar.

Every other time GVSU put on the pressure in the second half, which was often, Brodsky was equal to the task of keeping them out of the net. The Lakers held a 20-6 shot advantage in the second half after the two teams battled to a scoreless tie in the first, despite UCSD dominating possession of the ball.

“Especially for being a freshman, she was brilliant,” McManus said of Brodsky, who recorded eight saves in all.

The other goalkeeper, senior Chelsea Parise, was nearly as good much of the night. But she appeared to lose concentration at a pivotal moment early in the second half, when Parise seemed to pull back on a ball shot by UCSD’s Cassie Callahan that subsequently squeezed into the net to give the Tritons a 1-0 lead in the 46th minute.

“I was kind of surprised that it went in,” Callahan said. “But I was just very excited. I also knew we had a long half left, so we had to get another one.”
McManus was thinking the same thing.

“She thought we were going for a goal kick, and she just pulled her hands away at the last minute. I think she just got lost with the post,” McManus said of Parise. “We’ll take it. When you’re playing a good team like that, you’ll take anything.

“So we got the early goal. But we knew the second goal was going to be huge. One goal is not going to be enough to beat a team that’s been to the final four four years in a row.”

The second goal that gave UCSD a 2-0 lead was not long in coming, and it was a beautiful one. Jessica Wi drove the ball up the right side into the corner and made a crossing pass to Callahan, who headed it back into the center of the goal area from the far post. Tritons’ teammate Izzy Pozurama was waiting in a crowd and picked the ball out to tap it in.

“Jessie got the ball out wide, and she’s just great at that,” Callahan said. “Whenever she gets the ball out wide, I just go in the box – because I know she’s going to do a good cross. She crossed it back post, and I knew it was a bad angle [for me]. So I headed it across and I knew Izzy would be there. She was, and she put it in.”

McManus added: “I thought the second goal was brilliant. It was a great goal, a great cross. Cassie, a lot of players would have tried to score it from that angle. She was smart; she knocked it back across the goal. Izzy was there and Izzy got the tap-in.”

The key to building of UCSD’s 2-0 lead was staying in attack mode. From that point on, with a sense of desperation setting in, Grand Valley and UCSD more or less reversed roles as the Lakers tried to battle back.

When Botts scored off a rebound of a shot by teammate Charlie Socia in the 81st minute, Grand Valley suddenly was within striking distance. But UCSD held on to improve to 17-2-4 and advance to Saturday’s title game, ending Grand Valley’s season with a 20-2-3 record. 

“That was a great game. I doubt anyone will see a better game in this final four,” Grand Valley coach David Dilanni said.