Dominating the regular season and sweeping UCSB in the Big West tournament finals, Long Beach State secured a spot in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Long Beach will play a 1:30 p.m. Friday rematch against No. 4 seeded USC (15-2-2), who they fell against 3-0 in the preseason.
Despite losses at the start of the year, the 49ers improved their game play and team chemistry during the duration of the Big West, allowing them to come out on top in the end.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been so connected as a team, one through 27,” senior midfielder Dana Fujikuni said.
Long Beach (12-5-3) currently holds a three game win streak and is entering the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in the team’s history.
Senior forward Ashley Gonzales leads the team with seven goals, followed by Fujikuni’s six. Both were chosen for the All-Big West team and Fujikuni was awarded midfielder of the year and the Big West Tournament MVP honors.
The greatest attribute to the Long Beach defense is senior defender Sarah Maher who was named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year. She has started in every game this season and has the most minutes played out of the team.
USC will be one of many ranked teams Long Beach has faced this far. They are currently 8th in the country according to the NCAA Women’s soccer RPI rankings.
Notable players in the Trojan offense include freshman forward Penelope Hocking and senior forward Leah Pruitt. Hocking was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the year and has scored 13 goals this season. Pruitt was selected for the All-Pac 12 first team and has contributed 11 goals and eight assists.
The defensive end is lead by sophomore goalkeeper Kaylie Collins, who was chosen as the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the year and holds a current save percentage of .848 with 56 total saves.
While they are facing one of the top teams in the nation, the 49ers are ready to battle against a tough opponent.
“I think we want it a little bit more than previous teams,” Gonzales said. “We’re mentally focused, we’re doing everything the right way, so I think we’re ready.”