August 19, 2011

Bears lose heartbreaker in season opener

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DENVER -- On the opening night of the first Colorado Cup, the Northern Colorado women's soccer team fell 2-1 Friday to the Denver Pioneers in the final minute of overtime at CIBER Field.

The Bears (0-1) battled the defending Sun Belt Conference regular-season champions to a standstill for nearly 110 minutes before Denver's Kristen Hamilton scored her second goal of the match to give the Pioneers the victory.

Hamilton found the game-winner in the 109th minute of play, as she took a perfect flick off the head of Nicholette DiGiacomo and put the ball past Northern Colorado goalkeeper Kirstin Salminen.

"Games like tonight are obviously disappointing," Northern Colorado coach Tim Barrera said. "It's disappointing to be so close, but I really thought it was a great effort by the team.

"I thought, initially, the pace of the game was a little tough for us, but once we got into it, I thought we played very well. We just got a little tired there at the end and got beat by a great goal."

The two teams took turns trading punches in the first half, as the action on the pitch went back and forth. After Denver (1-0) took control of the ball early in the half, Northern Colorado found its first real scoring chance in the 21st minute when junior Danielle Birdsall found Janelle Kramer on a cross inside of six yards. The ball careened off Kramer's back and sailed left of the goal.

JJ Wykstra and Brittany Dunn also had scoring opportunities midway through the first half for the Bears, but neither could find the back of the net.

The Pioneers scored the game's opening goal in the 35th minute when Kaitlin Bast's through-ball found Hamilton cutting down the middle. Hamilton took the pass and flicked it past Salminen and into the lower-left corner of the target.

Minutes later, the Pioneers had another chance at goal, but Anna Willis' shot from 14 yards struck the left post and rolled away.

The Bears came out of the locker room after halftime and took control offensively. Included in the early attack was a rocket from senior Ariel Cook from 12 yards out that was saved by Pioneer goalkeeper Maria Khan.

About 15 minutes into the second half, Denver mounted another offensive strike, with Bria Beardsley taking a shot from the top of the box that ricocheted off the left post. Moments later, Salminen kept the Bears within striking distance by making a save off a Cassidy Larson shot at point-blank range.

With the clock running out on the Bears, senior Kimmie Feidler stole a pass in the Denver backfield and ripped a shot from 18 yards out. The ball sailed perfectly over the outstretched arms of Khan and into the upper-left corner of the net to tye the match at 1-1.

After Feidler's goal, the two teams traded chances until the end of regulation.

As the overtime period, along with the rain, began in Denver, Cook almost earned the Bears a win as she found some space in front of the net. She let go a rocket from seven yards out but was denied by Khan. It was the closest the Bears would get the remainder of the match.

Northern Colorado does not have much time to dwell on the heartbreak in Denver, as it wraps up the Colorado Cup on Sunday with a road game against Colorado. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Earlier in the afternoon in Denver, the Buffaloes defeated Colorado College 5-0 to open up Cup play.

"It's good to jump right into our season against a couple of high-quality teams in the first weekend," Barrera said. "We are going to have tough teams to play all year, so we might as well get started early.

"The women are very disappointed right now because they know how close they were to beating a very good team, but we will learn from this and hopefully get better from this experience. We have to move on quickly and focus on Colorado."