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Bison soccer knocks off top-seeded Jackrabbits in Summit tourney

North Dakota State's Daniella Algera tracks down the ball against South Dakota State's Kaitlin Zabel Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during the Summit League soccer tournament at Dacotah Field in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 6
North Dakota State's Mariah Haberle and South Dakota State's Julia Lam go up for a header Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during the Summit League soccer tournament at Dacotah Field in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service2 / 6
North Dakota State's Malley O'Brien celebrates her first-half goal with teammates Mariah Haberle (12) and Daniella Algera Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during the Summit League soccer tournament at Dacotah Field in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service3 / 6
North Dakota State players celebrate their 2-0 win over South Dakota State Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during the Summit League soccer tournament at Dacotah Field in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service4 / 6
North Dakota State's Malley O'Brien heads the ball past South Dakota State goalkeeper Maggie Smither and defender Kyli Nelson (2) Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during the Summit League soccer tournament at Dacotah Field in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service5 / 6
North Dakota State's Malley O'Brien heads the ball past South Dakota State goalkeeper Maggie Smither and defender Kyli Nelson (2) Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, during the Summit League soccer tournament at Dacotah Field in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service6 / 6

FARGO—If March Madness is the term given for basketball, then women's soccer can reserve November for the tournament upset. North Dakota State pulled the trick Thursday afternoon, Nov. 2, at Dacotah Field.

The Bison, after getting deflated at South Dakota State in the Summit League regular season finale last week, turned the tables when it counted the most. The Bison survived on the defensive end and got opportunistic goals in each half to take a 2-0 win.

NDSU advances to Saturday's noon championship against the University of Denver, with the winner getting an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. It's been that kind of the season for the Bison, who lost eight straight to start the year only to win seven of their last nine to reach the four-team conference tourney.

The last match was a 4-0 loss to SDSU that left the Bison at 7-10 overall and the top-seeded Jacks at 11-4-3.

"We came in with a lot of confidence knowing we were playing them at home," said Bison junior midfielder Malley O'Brien. "And we've been really good at home, so knowing they were going to come in a little cocky winning 4-0 just a few days ago, we battled back and were able to win."

The Jacks had the advantage in field position for most of the game, but it was the Bison who drew first blood. Mallory Fenske, while holding off an SDSU defenseman, sent a perfect pass toward the net that O'Brien headed into the corner of the net. And with 18:09 left in the first half the Bison had something they didn't have against the Jackrabbits last week: a lead.

"I saw Mal coming down the sidelines and she played a perfect ball to me," O'Brien said. "I just tapped it in with my head. I wasn't even thinking about it, I just saw it go in the back corner of the net."

SDSU had its chances.

Leah Manuleleua hit the post with a shot almost halfway through the first half. Later, Darien Poelstra had a point-blank header that Bison goalkeeper Monica Polgar snagged and Julia Lam had a virtually uncontested shot from the wing that Polgar barely got a hand on to deflect it wide.

So the Bison took a 1-0 lead into halftime despite being outshot 9-2.

"Getting that first goal was huge, that team does not give up many goals," said NDSU head coach Mark Cook. "Getting a goal on our first shot ... our team plays well with the lead because it gives them that extra motivation."

O'Brien almost made it 2-0 with 33 minutes left in the game when her shot from out front hit the crossbar and bounced away. Still, it was the Jacks still putting on the most pressure.

No matter. Britney Monteon made good of a nice feed in front of goalkeeper Maggie Smither and buried it for a 2-0 advantage with just under 20 minutes remaining.

"They definitely had more shots and a lot more of the ball, but every time we got the ball we were able to do something with it," O'Brien said.

Cook figured the Jacks would have the ball-possession advantage. He said the hope was for the Bison to counter attack—and that's what they did at the opportunistic time.

NDSU won the game despite SDSU having zero goalie saves.

"We just came out and played much harder," Cook said of the difference from last week. "We talked about doing the little things and we did all the little things well."

Now the Bison get the Pioneers, who beat NDSU 3-0 in Denver in early October.

"It's a great feeling, we have to work on a couple of things in practice tomorrow to get ready for them," O'Brien said. "We're up for the challenge."

FIRST HALF: 1, NDSU, O'Brien (Fenske), 18:09.

SECOND HALF: 2, NDSU, Monteon (Burnstein), 19:14.

SAVES: SDSU, Smither, 0-0---0. NDSU, Polgar 2-2--4.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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