WVU men’s soccer advances past Virginia Tech after penalty shootout

Gold and Blue Nation

Mountaineers persevere through physical match to earn Sweet Sixteen bid

11-seed West Virginia men’s soccer survived and advanced in the NCAA Tournament as it moved past Virginia Tech in a penalty shootout 4-3 after a 1-1 draw.

The Mountaineers and the Hokies played a physical match to a stalemate after 110 minutes — but WVU’s captains came up big in the ultimate showdown, as goalkeeper Steven Tekesky made two saves and midfielder Pau Jimenez Albelda buried the deciding penalty kick to send his team on to the next round.

“I said to the players, the postseason can often feel like it’s the culmination of things, and that things are coming to an end,” said WVU coach Daniel Stratford. “This is just the beginning….I’ve been involved in enough of these types of games and enough national championship runs and final fours to know that we have everything we need.”

WVU needed just seven minutes to take a lead. The Mountaineers maintained early pressure on the back line of Virginia Tech, and broke through when Luke McCormick chipped a cross in to Ike Swiger for a clean finish.

Swiger scored from nearly point-blank range as he found a real soft spot in the Hokie back line.

“I was surprised that there was so much space,” Swiger said. “I know Pau was coming up on my left shoulder and I screamed at him ‘no’ because I wanted it.”

Virginia Tech played tough all game, getting vocal against the Mountaineers and never shying away from a physical challenge. Their play even shows up in the box score — they were whistled for 16 fouls and given six yellow cards, while WVU had just nine fouls and one booking.

The Hokies broke onto the scoreboard shortly after halftime, when Jacob Labovitz capped off a Hokie counterattack with a goal in the 56th minute.

WVU nearly won in the final minutes of both the second half and the second overtime — they did, however struggle to put their shots on target, forcing VT’s Ben Martino to make just two saves on 16 shots.

The Mountaineers couldn’t have come any closer in the last 30 seconds of play in extra time. WVU kept the ball right in front of Martino through that duration, but were denied continually by the Hokie defense. As time wound down, the ball chaotically bounced around the box, prompting WVU’s Ryan Crooks to try a bicycle kick into the right side of the net. Martino stretched and made a fingertip save on what would likely have been WVU’s goal of the season thus far.

“I thought we deserved to win the game,” Jimenez Albelda said. “I thought we were so much better, keeping the ball from side to side, doing what we’ve been doing all season, and yeah, sometimes we struggled to score goals but deep down I knew that we were gonna come out on top because we were the better team.”

So began the penalty kicks, and the Hokies started the shootout. Both teams made their first two shots from the spot, but Tekesky broke the streak when he brought some poetic justice and saved Labovitz’s shot to the left side of the net.

WVU couldn’t capitalize, though, as Bjarne Thiesen went over the crossbar to answer.

Tekesky wasn’t fazed by the moment. On the next try, Daniel Starr of VT went to his right, unable to fool Tekesky, who made his second save of the shootout. That gave Jimenez Albelda the perfect opportunity to step up to the spot on the sixth round of the shootout — he stepped up, aimed to the top right corner, and scored.

“It was crazy, man, I just started running, I didn’t know what to do, what to think. It was great,” Jimenez Albelda said. “Steven here was the top performer in the PK shootout, but putting the cherry on top of the cake was great.”

Tekesky made two saves in the game, but the two he made in the shootout were much more important, and infinitely more stressful.

“I really only knew one shooter, I think of the rest of the list we had, none of them were the same,” Tekesky said. “So when I saw people walking up, when I was looking, I was kind of like, he’s not on there, what am I gonna do?…But it worked out.”

West Virginia now moves on to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament and await the winner of Sunday’s clash between 6-seed Tulsa and Creighton at 7 p.m.

“Right now, there are 16 teams left in the country, and we’re one of them,” Stratford said.

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