It was almost as if Julianne Grinstead was laying low.
The 5-foot-9 defender is usually the big target on set pieces for the Cal Poly women’s soccer team, the tallest player available to redirect a free kick past the opposing goalkeeper.
But in the 22nd minute of the Mustangs’ Big West Tournament semifinal at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Thursday, UC Irvine really wasn’t paying much attention to the senior defender as teammate Kristina Condon-Sherwood set up for the corner kick.
“They weren’t marked up as well as I thought they would have been on her because they usually double-team Grinny all the time and it’s hard for me to find her sometimes,” Condon-Sherwood said, “but for the most part on that ball, I saw her in there and I just whipped it in as hard as I could just to see what happened.”
Grinstead broke free right in front of the Anteaters goal, and with no one in sight, headed the ball into the net as if UC Irvine keeper Danielle de Seriere was not even there.
Grinstead got her fourth goal of the season, Condon-Sherwood served up two assists and goalkeeper Coral Hoover and the Mustangs defense notched their seventh straight shutout victory in a 2-0 win that sets up a rematch with UC Santa Barbara in the tournament final in San Luis Obispo on Sunday. An automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament will be at stake.
“Coach says just get on the end of the ball, do whatever you can to get a neck, get a head, get a knee, get any body part on the ball,” Grinstead said, “and that’s kind of what I’ve learned to do. Just go into it as hard as possible and keep your eye on the ball and you’ll get it in the net every once in a while.”
The second goal came when Condon-Sherwood found Carissa Voegele in front of the net on a second-half corner kick.
Voegele headed the ball right to Morgan Miller’s foot, and Miller slammed it straight back up into the crossbar, where the referee ruled it entered the goal and Cal Poly (14-5-0) was afforded a two-score lead.
“Once we’re up two-nothing, we focus more defensively, not so much on the attack,” Condon-Sherwood. “We don’t need as much attack as much as we normally would if we were tied or even up one, because one goal is not that much of a lead.”
The defensive focus was apparent. Hoover, the leading statistical keeper in the Big West, ended up with eight saves in her 11th shutout of the season.
The seven straight shutouts set a new Mustangs program record, breaking a mark of six consecutive shutouts set in 2003.
Being that the blanking came against UC Irvine made it even more special considering the Anteaters were the last team to score a goal against Cal Poly, which has not allowed a goal in more than a month, an actual game time span of 638 minutes, 8 seconds.
The Mustangs scored a 3-2 overtime win at UC Irvine on Oct. 4. Their last loss was a 3-2 defeat to Cal State Northridge in the conference opener two days earlier.
Since then, Cal Poly has outscored its opponents 11-2.
“Early on in the season when we played Irvine, we were still a little bit risky and a little bit sketchy in the back,” Grinstead said, “and we’ve really just stepped it up and gotten to the point where we need to be to just keep shutouts on every team.”