After four straight nights of homecoming heroics, the Mustangs magic finally ran out Sunday. The Cal Poly women’s soccer team was desperate for a victory in a home finale that could have kept the team in the driver’s seat to make the Big West Conference Tournament.
The Mustangs took an early lead but were instead overcome in a 2-1 loss to visiting UC Davis and sit on the outside looking in with only two road matches remaining in the regular season.
“In the end, we just had to win in order to go on,” said Cal Poly senior midfielder Afton Thulin, a former San Luis Obispo High standout who played her final game in Alex G. Spanos Stadium. “So, we just had to get it done, and the cards didn’t fall into our place this time. We just have to finish out the season with wins in the next two games, and that’s all we can hope for.”
The cards had been falling into a royal flush.
The volleyball team outlasted rival UC Santa Barbara in a five-set match on Wednesday then improved to 5-0 at home with a four-set win Thursday.
The men’s soccer team benefited from a controversial penalty kick in the final minute to upset the Gauchos on Friday, and the football team put together a 70-yard drive on its final possession to seal a comeback win over Southern Utah in the Mustangs’ Great West Conference opener on Saturday.
Four impactful games. Four emotional victories.
And when Thulin curved a pass on a counter attack to Sara Lancaster, who put an easy one-on-one goal past UC Davis goalkeeper Maria Magana in the 15th minute, it looked like the fifth was on its way.
With Cal Poly (8-8-1, 2-4-1 Big West Conference) controlling possession for most of the first half, the lead held up until the 36th minute.
The Aggies (9-4-1, 3-1-1 Big West) made the most of their touches, outshooting Cal Poly 5-3 in the first half with all five coming on goal. Anna Quigley scored the equalizer, taking a nicely placed pass from Rogan Dolan toward the right post and easing a shot past Mustangs keeper Brooke Gauvin back to the left.
Cal Poly’s first goal “was much-needed,” Thulin said, “just an early goal that gave us some confidence, and we were having fun out there. Then they scored and that ended.”
Hannah Hicks scored the game-winner in the 55th minute, and UC Davis was able to withstand a late push by the Mustangs.
The Aggies ended up with a 9-4 advantage in shots on goal. Even though Cal Poly was aggressive in possessing the ball, the Mustangs had trouble creating shots.
“We need to just take them,” Thulin said. “A lot of times, soccer players wait for the perfect touch or the perfect set-up for the shot. So, we don’t take those chances when they might be imperfect.”
Said Cal Poly head coach Alex Crozier: “We were creating opportunities. We just weren’t shooting and finishing them.”With wins in their final three games, the Mustangs could have guaranteed a finish no worse than fourth in the Big West standings. The top four teams advance to the conference tournament, where the Big West’s lone automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament is on the line.
As it is, Cal Poly sits in sixth place, one game behind UC Davis in fifth. The Mustangs play Pacific and UC Santa Barbara on the road over the next two weeks to wrap up the regular season needing teams ahead of them to lose.
“This gives us four losses,” Crozier said, “so the best we can do is four and four, and so other things have to happen. We’ve got to go out and just play the way we can play the next two games and take care of business, and whatever sorts out, sorts out.”
As well as for Gauvin, forward Tiffany Gummow, defenders McKenzie Orand and Erica Johnson and injured former Cuesta College standout Esther Neel, it was an emotional home finale for Thulin, who racked up 55 goals in four years playing varsity at San Luis Obispo High and helped lead the Tigers to a school-record 27 victories in 2007-08.
The science major and aspiring doctor plans on finishing this academic year in town and then studying abroad in England next fall when she won’t be playing soccer in San Luis Obispo for the first time in ages.
“I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else,” Thulin said about her choice to play for the Mustangs. “Cal Poly and San Luis is my home. My fan base is huge, and I’m so thankful for them. They come out to my games, and they’ve come to know my teammates as well as they’ve known me.”