IRVINE — The 49ers danced with excitement and were beaming ear-to-ear as they held up the championship trophy at Anteater Stadium after winning the most important game of the year so far.
Long Beach State defeated UC Santa Barbara 2-0 in the Big West tournament final and will advance to the NCAA tournament for the seventh time.
“Winning this with my team and for my team, I knew that I wanted to come back and do exactly this and go to the NCAA tournament with this group. It’s amazing,” senior forward Ashley Gonzales said while holding back tears.
The final started off as a tug-of-war, as pressure alternated from one side of the field to the other.
Long Beach fans anxiously stood on their toes as the 49ers drew a free kick just outside the Gauchos goal box in the 25th minute. Gonzales nailed the ball into the bottom left corner of the net, causing the score to go 1-0 in the 49ers favor.
In the 55th minute, UCSB junior goalkeeper Hanna DeWeese attempted a sliding save on her right, leaving senior midfielder Dana Fujikuni wide open in the middle of the box. The ball was deflected into the center, and Fujikuni tapped the ball into the net scoring her second goal of the Big West tournament.
“It’s everything,” Fujikuni said. “It’s all the hard work we put in and it’s showing now.”
Long Beach had support from students in the band, spirit and volleyball teams filling up the stands and rooting for the 49ers. They sported black and gold, waved rally towels and chanted to show school pride.
Long Beach finished the game with 16 shots, just one above UCSB’s 15. The 49ers out shot every opponent in the Big West this season.
Senior goalkeeper Imani McDonald stood out with her high energy and powerful vocals on the field. She finished the championship game with five saves and earned her sixth shutout in her final year with the team.
“Imani was a game-winning goalkeeper today,” head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “She was just tremendous.”
With two goals scored in the past two games, Fujikuni was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. She was awarded a trophy and met with hugs and thundering cheers from her teammates and fans.
The NCAA Division 1 Women’s Soccer Championship bracket will be announced at 1:30 p.m. PST Monday on NCAA.com.