It had been two decades since the North Carolina State women's soccer team had played an NCAA tournament game. Thanks to sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Wootten, it won't have to wait long for another one.
Wootten made two saves in a penalty shootout, giving the Wolfpack a 4-2 shootout win and abruptly ending No. 8 Minnesota's Big Ten championship season.
"We didn't look at ourselves as underdogs," said N.C. State coach Tim Santoro, whose team was 1-6 against ranked teams this season. "Coming from the ACC, we knew they were a good team, but we play them twice a week for six, seven weeks."
What was a breeze at kickoff turned into a stiff gale by the second half, whipping through Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium from the south. Playing the ball into the wind was all but impossible, but it gave N.C. State the advantage in the first half, when it had the wind behind it. A series of long balls over the top of the Gophers defense gave striker Gladys Loyas three decent chances in the final 10 minutes of the first half, forcing Gophers goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs into action to keep the score tied at zero.
The strategy took Minnesota out of its preferred game plan, forcing the Gophers to play on the back foot. "When we're at our best, we move the ball on the ground a lot," coach Stefanie Golan said. "We play a very fast-paced game on the attacking side of the field, and it makes it really challenging to get the ball down and find a rhythm, when it's getting lumped back at you every time it turns over."
The wind picked up as the second half began, negating the Wolfpack's preferred long-ball strategy. Forward Sydney Squires had the best chance for Minnesota in the second half, forcing Wootten into a diving save. The biggest moment of the second half might have come in the first two minutes, though, when senior forward Simone Kolander limped off the field after a heavy collision. Kolander, the two-time Big Ten Forward of the Year, did not return — putting a damper on the Gophers offense just as they got the wind behind them.
Ninety minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime wasn't enough for either team to score a goal, and in the end the wind was taken out of the equation.
"The nice thing about penalties is that no one expects the keeper to do anything," said Wootten, but she was the difference in the shootout.
Two saves, denying both Josee Stiever and Molly Fielder, were enough to send the Wolfpack on to the next round, and to bring the Gophers' dream season to a sudden halt.