Soccer

South Carolina eliminates Montana from NCAA women’s soccer tournament

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Press release by Joel Carlson, Montana sports information

Montana’s championship season came to an end on Wednesday evening with a 1-0 loss to South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship at Gillette Field in Wilson, N.C.

Corinna Zullo’s goal, a header off a cross in the 57th minute, won it for the Gamecocks (11-4-0), who advance to face No. 13 Georgetown on Saturday. Montana’s season ends with a record of 9-2-0.

“There is nothing but pride to be a Griz after that,” said senior goalkeeper Claire Howard, who made a career-high nine saves while facing 16 shots.

“For a mid-major school like us to go up against a big-time SEC school with so much history and experience at this tournament and only lose 1-0 is pretty special.”

The match was scoreless at the half largely because of Howard, who faced 10 shots and made five saves through the opening 45 minutes.

She made a fantastic save in the fifth minute on a dangerous one-touch redirect from eight yards out, then rose up to push over the crossbar a shot from distance in the seventh minute.

Instead of 2-0, it was scoreless.

“That’s why you have Claire Howard. We talked about it in the buildup to the game. If you have a goalkeeper, you have a shot. She made some absolutely amazing saves,” said coach Chris Citowicki.

South Carolina had seven shots and four corner kicks before Montana attempted its first shot, but after the two threatening attempts early, the Grizzlies settled in defensively.

“We knew we had to be a different kind of good tonight defensively to keep ourselves in it, and I think everybody did that,” said Howard.

“I wanted to be hard to beat. They got a couple of good looks, but I feel like my training leading up to the match allowed me to give us a chance to keep us in the game the first half.”

Montana got out-shot 10-1 in the first half, which prompted some halftime changes.

“The first half was a little tough. We just had to change how we were building our attack. They were stopping certain things, so the ball had to start entering different areas,” said Citowicki.

“It was just being more direct. They were expecting us to play through the middle the whole time. As soon as we started going over the top a little bit, we started to hurt them.

“We were defending well. We had to create some chances. We couldn’t spend the whole time defending.”

Sydney Haustein got a good like from 10 yards out in the 58th minute, and Josie Windauer got free in the 72nd. Her shot from 15 yards out was toed away by a Gamecock defender, pushing it wide.

Both attempts came after South Carolina had taken a 1-0 lead.

Ryan Gareis beat a Montana defender near the corner in the 57th minute and that space allowed her to play a clean cross into the box. It was headed in by Zullo for her fifth goal of the season.

“A header is just hard,” said Howard. “She crossed it from the 18, so initially it didn’t have very far to travel. With a header, your timing has to be spot-on. Credit to her. It was well-placed, but it stings.

“I think South Carolina is walking away feeling lucky they found the moment that got them to the next round. I think we competed all 90 minutes and played as well as we could have defensively.”

Citowicki added, “It was a brilliant 1-v-1 move in the corner that created space for the cross. That’s what you get with teams when you reach this level.”

Windauer’s blocked shot led to a corner kick in the 73rd minute, but that was the last dangerous moment for the Grizzlies as the Gamecocks effectively iced the game down the stretch.

“We can hang with these teams,” said Citowicki. “We’ve got to get back to work. There is stuff to do and areas to improve. I already have the list.

“I hate losing in these moments, because now we have to wait for a long time to get back to work.”

Montana loses seven seniors, six of whom had the opportunity to be in two NCAA tournament matches in their careers.

In 2018, the season ended with a 5-1 loss to Washington State. On Wednesday, the end was a 1-0 loss to South Carolina.

“The thing that hurts is losing these seniors, but they have done such a good job getting us to this point where we can get to the tournament and compete against teams like this,” Citowicki said.

“I feel like that’s mission accomplished right there.”

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