Palmer's 77th-minute score awards West Florida national championship
EVANS, Ga. – West Florida had to survive the first half of Saturday’s Division II national championship game against UC San Diego before taking control of the second half.
With Chelsea Palmer providing the game-winning goal for the second match in a row, the Argonauts held off the Tritons 1-0 for the victory.
“UC San Diego was so fierce in the first half, we were just hanging on,” West Florida coach Joe Bartlinski said. “Part of it was because of how tired we were from the Saint Rose game. We had to expend so much energy against Saint Rose. All we did [Friday] and [Saturday] morning was try to recover physically from everything.
“We were just so worn out, but we just held on during that first half. We had some chances, but they definitely were smothering us. I don’t know what the shot count was exactly, but it was a lot to a little in their favor.”
The shot count was 11-4 in favor of the Tritons in the first half, but the Argonauts were determined to turn that around in the second half. With Palmer leading the way – she mustered 10 shots all by herself, including four on goal – the second half turned in West Florida’s favor.
“We told ourselves at halftime, ‘This second half, let’s play our game. Let’s get the ball wide and take them on.’ And in the second half, we just kept coming at them wave after wave after wave. We had a bunch of shots that second half,” Bartlinski said.
The shot count ended up 15-4 in West Florida’s favor in the final 45 minutes, and Palmer finally scored a goal in a crowd off a rebound after UC San Diego goalkeeper Kelcie Broadsky rejected Sashana Campbell’s initial shot.
“In soccer, sometimes you only have one opportunity,” Palmer said. “In a game like this, national championships aren’t usually won by 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0. … Games are won 1-0. It’s the toe-poke, the diving header that wins it for you.”
Palmer claimed her third national championship trophy on Saturday, having won the NJCAA Division III national championship at Richland in 2009 and the NJCAA Division I national championship at Tyler Junior College last year before transferring to West Florida.
But she could not have done it on Saturday without some solid defensive play from her teammates, especially goalkeeper Sarah Story. Also a junior college transfer playing her first season at West Florida, Story turned away a number of shots by UC San Diego – including a pair within 30 seconds of each other in the first half. One shot by UCSD’s Kylene Hill glanced off Story’s hands and hit the top crossbar before soaring out of bounds.
“We talked about hanging in there in that first half,” Bartlinski said. “And it was because of that tremendous save that Sarah made in the first half to keep us in it. But she knows that’s her job. That’s what goalkeepers do. And she got up and pushed that ball over the bar and kept us in that game.”
UCSD’s season ended with a 17-3-4 record, while West Florida finished at 24-1-0.
“In the first half, I thought we played quite well. But we didn’t put our chances away,” UCSD coach Brian McManus said. “It was almost as if in the second half, we froze a little bit. We were more worried about losing than winning. That’s not like us.
“But give credit to them. They played a high-pressure game. They came at us, especially in the second half. They had a couple of players that were a handful.”