Women beat Aztecs in overtime thriller

Michael Harrington

Cal State Northridge senior captain Nalena Betancourt scored the game-winning goal with 4:34 left in the second sudden-death overtime period to give the Matadors a 2-1 opening day victory over the San Diego State Aztecs on Friday at Matador Soccer Field.

The goal came off a Northridge corner kick and was assisted by freshmen Nancy Avesyan and Brielle Slepicoff.

“We had numbers, crashed the goal and got it in,” said Betancourt, who had to wait two years to add a third career-goal, a game-winner of all things, to her collegiate record.

It was the first time that Matadors (1-0-0) and Aztecs (0-1-0) squared off since 2005, a game Northridge also won 2-1 in overtime.

San Diego State struck first, though. Junior Heather Vandevanter headed in a cross from sophomore Britney Bennett 42 minutes into the game and put the Aztecs up 1-0 going into halftime.

But CSUN goalkeeper Leah Elliot didn’t let anymore shots get by her the rest of the way. Elliot, a sophomore, was given the starting position after the expected starter, sophomore Ivette Esqueda, suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“I had just four days to prepare,” said Elliot, who finished the game with four saves. “I had to take an instant crash course to try and remember everything I’ve learned. I just knew that if I messed up, I had to learn from it and get back at it.”

It was Elliot’s first time at the net since her senior year at Westlake High School. However, Matador head coach Keith West feels comfortable sending her out there this season.

“We rallied around her tonight,” said West, a third-year head coach. “With Ivette (Esqueda) and Kellie (Drenner) both out for the season, she’s the one we’re going with.”

The Matador’s tied the game in the 64th minute after senior Kristal Phillips got the ball past the Aztec goalkeeper, sophomore Aubree Southwick. The shot was deflected off the top crossbar before bouncing into the back of the net. It was assisted by senior captain Tryna Tafoya and junior Tinamarie Lutizetti. Tafoya now has 10 assists for her career, tying her for third all-time in the Matadors’ record books.

Friday’s game score was Phillips’ first since the 2006 season, when she led the Matadors in goals with six of them. It could have also been her second goal in the game, as she had Southwick on a one-on-one just two minutes before the tie, however her shot bounced just off the right goal post.

The Aztecs didn’t have many opportunities to win the game from then on. They could only get off one shot in each of the two overtime periods and neither found the back of the net. Vandevanter led San Diego State with four shots, two of them on goal. Tafoya had five shots, a game-high for the Matadors.

Phillips also picked up a yellow card, the first of the year for Northridge.

The Matadors, who finished 5-10-2 overall in 2007, were able to get their first victory of the season in their first game, while last season it took them five matches to do it.

“The first win is extremely important,” said West. “We knew we had to take it half by half and that allowed us to come back.”

Aggressive play and great leadership from the captains also helped the Matadors notch the victory.

“We worked as a team, communicated, and stayed intense,” said Betancourt. “We’re going to use this first win as a foundation for our entire season.”

The Matadors’ season resumes on Friday when the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (0-1-0) visit Matador Field. The Thunderbirds were humiliated and lost 5-0 on their opening day game against UC Riverside last Friday afternoon. On Sunday, the Matadors hit the road for the first time and visit the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners.