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PROVO — Elena Medeiros has scored some big, important and overall stellar goals for the BYU women's soccer team during the 2015 regular season.
She may have topped them all Saturday afternoon.
Medeiros scored the only goal of the match in the 21st minute, and junior goalkeeper Rachel Boaz made three saves to help the No. 13 Cougars hold off in-state rival Utah Valley, 1-0, in front of 3,633 fans at South Field.
"It was a really fast goal, and I think it was one of the prettiest goals we've had all season," Medeiros said. "The ball came into the center and we've been working on that.
"It was a great goal."
On her first-half strike, Medeiros slid into the area to redirect Nadia Gomes' counter-attacking cross from the left side into the bottom corner to give the Cougars the 1-0 lead. Gomes took a pass to the outside from Madie Lyons, drew several defenders to her, then chipped a cross that found Medeiros' boot just after the 20-minute mark to give BYU (16-2-2) all the scoring it needed.
"The main focus we had at halftime today was to make sure we were committed to our defensive pressure and shape, and it started with our forwards," BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said. "We talked to our forwards about defense starting with them, and they did a great job of relieving pressure so that it becomes predictable for our back four."
The Wolverines (14-7-1) had a chance to even the scoreline in the 27th minute, when Paige Hunt earned a yellow card for an off-the-ball tackle just outside the penalty box. The official gave Utah Valley an indirect free kick from the edge of the area, but Kasandra Anderson's shot caromed off the wall before it was cleared by the Cougars.
Medeiros nearly doubled her tally in the 45th minute, ripping a shot from close range about 20 seconds before the halftime whistle that sailed just wide of the goal.
Utah Valley goalkeeper Jessica Duffin, the WAC defensive player of the year, kept the 1-0 scoreline with a stunning reflex save in the 65th minute that kept the home team at bay despite double-digit shots through that point. The Cougars finished with 18 shots, including six on goal, but Duffin's five saves in the loss.
Duffin finished with five saves, keeping the scoreline tight throughout the afternoon even as BYU pressed for a second goal through the second half.
The damage, though, was done and BYU moved on to the second round to help spark a three-match win sweep for the West Coast Conference. The Cougars will face top-seeded Stanford on Thursday at 8 p.m. MST in a rematch of the Cougars' first loss of the year.
The first goal, it proved, made all the difference.
"I think once we put that first shot in the net, it helps us relax a bit and play our game," Lyons said. "It also helps relieve the pressure off the defense. But we continued to keep up the energy after we scored, and I think that's really important."
Loyola Marymount stunned Cal, 1-0 to continue its dream season, while Santa Clara finished off Long Beach State by the same scoreline as the WCC brought three of the final 32 teams in the country to the postseason tournament.
"I think sometimes in the last couple of years, the WCC has been a bit overlooked as a conference. But we're very competitive," Rockwood said. "That is a huge win for LMU, and I'm excited for them and what Michelle has done for their club. They are in the best season in program history with nine seniors who want it more than anything, and Cal is considered one of the top programs in the country. This is a huge win for them and for our conference."
Medeiros led all players with four shots, and Michele Murphy Vasconcelos added three shots with a pair of shots on goal for the Cougars.
Ashley Hatch tried to bag a goal in only her second-game action since returning from a knee injury midway through conference play. The junior from Gilbert, Arizona, dribbled through the Utah Valley defense, then let up and lifted a left-footed shot that trickled on frame and into the waiting arms of Duffin for a save on one of our three shots as a second-half substitute.
After surrendering six goals to San Diego State in a season opening loss, Duffin rallied the defense and only let in one against a top-15 team in the country.
"It comes with a lot of discipline and maturity," Duffin said. "We struggled a little at the beginning of the season, but we stayed disciplined and focused on keeping the ball in front of us and stayed compact. It started with the high pressure from our forwards, but as a team, we were very disciplined."
Medeiros went down with five minutes remaining, carried off the field after suffering an apparent right leg injury. The junior from Bountiful stumbling into the postgame press area with an ice bag on her calf, but added it was just a cramp and she should be ready by Thursday's second-round match in Palo Alto, California.
"The winning goal was by Elena, who is one of our best and most consistent players and has had a phenomenal season," Rockwood said of Medeiros. "Now she got the winning goal for us to advance in the NCAA tournament."
On the defensive end, BYU limited Utah Valley to seven shots. Only late substitute Breanna McCarter finished with more than one shot, ending the match with a team-high two shots and one of three shots on frame.
Utah Valley finished the season with a school-record 14 wins and the first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament after winning the WAC Tournament title a week ago.
"They are dynamic in the midfield, and with all that movement and combination play, you're spending a lot of time and energy defending," Utah Valley coach Brent Anderson said of BYU. "It's hard to spend time and energy defending, and then generate it into the attack. They have some great attacking players, but I think our team did a really good job of defending, and then didn't have as much energy to go forward as we would've liked."