Last season, the Idaho soccer team was exactly where Eastern Washington is now: Big Sky champions awaiting the conference tournament. One year later, and Idaho’s playoff hopes hung by a withering thread as the regular season came to a disheartening end.
Claiming Big Sky titles is what the Vandals know how to do best, but this season that skill just didn’t shine through. Instead, Idaho finished at the bottom of the Big Sky.
In the last two seasons, Idaho’s gotten used to being in the driver’s seat. Clinging to a potential playoff spot was oddly uncharacteristic of the Vandals because of recently successful seasons.
Idaho notched back-to-back Big Sky championships in the last two years in the regular season. Although failing to clinch three consecutive titles, the Vandals managed to play some of their best soccer late in 2017.
With uncertain postseason possibilities ahead, the Vandals were never deterred or unmotivated. In fact, the team seemingly played with an edge, as they continued to chip, press and challenge the Eagles defense the entire game.
The edge was not only present Friday night, but it had been put on display in Idaho’s other recent matchups. Victories against Weber State and Idaho State sparked something in the Vandals.
Idaho played with stamina and resiliency, as each game became more important in the season’s final stretch. Unfortunately, the late effort wasn’t enough to send the team to the Big Sky tournament.
Senior midfielder Olivia Baggerly ended her Idaho career in winning fashion. She got the scoring started for the Vandals, though the early lead was erased by the Eagles with a first half goal of their own.
Idaho eventually reclaimed the lead behind a clutch goal by junior midfielder Anna Rose Wiencek. The recent stamina, edge and determination of Idaho continued to drive and define the team in crunch time.
There is no denying the rollercoaster season Idaho endured. The team faced countless highs accompanied with undeniable lows, but they persevered and ended the season on a high note.
With a strong foundation and most starters returning, Idaho is capable of taking another shot at an outright conference title next season.
Zack Ozuna can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @OzunaZack21