DAVIS, Calif. -
Behind a first-half goal by Sagi Lev-Ari and flawless defense for the entire match, the Cal State Northridge Matadors (15-6, 7-3 Big West) won their first Big West Conference Tournament Championship, knocking off the host UC Davis Aggies 1-0 on Saturday afternoon at Aggie Soccer Field. The Matadors punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with the win, earning their first berth since 2005.
"You have to work hard in this sport. We've had a couple of rough seasons recently but being on the top now is a wonderful feeling," said Northridge head coach Terry Davila. "We've had excellent support from our administration, our fellow coaching staffs, their student-athletes and our team."
The Matadors were put under pressure early in the match by the Aggies, as UC Davis registered the match's first shot just 17 seconds in. A header by Kevin Schulte rolled wide of the post, however, allowing Northridge to regroup.
The Aggies had header attempts in the fourth and 14th minutes, each wide, before Northridge was able to take its first shot.
And what a first shot it was.
Midfielder Chris Smith played the ball up the middle to Lev-Ari at the top of the box in the 16th minute. Lev-Ari then created space between himself and the defender and fired a shot that rang the underside of the crossbar and went over the line for a goal.
Edwin Rivas nearly doubled the lead two minutes later but his shot was tipped wide by UC Davis goalkeeper Omar Zeenni. Zeenni was also saved by the woodwork a few minutes later, as a curling shot from a set piece by Smith hit the crossbar and stayed out of the goal.
Northridge goalkeeper Michael Abalos was tested for the first time in the 41st minute, making sprawling saves on back-to-back shots by Eric Budniewski and Brian Ford. The senior kept the ball out of the net and helped CSUN take the 1-0 lead into the halftime break.
The second half was a different story for the Matadors as the Aggies continually sent waves of attackers forward. Northridge adapted to a more defensive style to preserve the lead.
Abalos recorded three more saves in the second half for the clean sheet, his eighth of the season. With eight in 2012, Abalos now ties for second all-time for single-season shutouts.
The Matadors held off late charges by the Aggies to claim their first tournament title and won the Big West Conference for the first time since 2005. Cal State Northridge made Big West history with the win, becoming the first school to claim both the men's and women's tournament titles in the same season.
Following the match, Lev-Ari was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Lev-Ari was responsible for both of Northridge's game-winning goals this week.
The Matadors await the announcement of their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament, as the tournament field will be unveiled live at NCAA.com on Monday, Nov. 12 at 2:30 p.m. PT.
"There is some anxiety because we don't know where we will play, but this anxiety is better than not knowing if our names will be called," concluded Davila.