Long Beach State Soccer

Long Beach State Women’s Soccer Ready For Big West

One of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the country has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Long Beach State women’s soccer. The 49ers (5-4-1) have only lost to teams ranked in the Top 15 while preparing for the Big West Conference schedule that gets underway tonight at Cal State Fullerton.

“It’s been a great experience for the players,” LBSU coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “They’ve grown with every game. We’re seasoned, and we’ll be ready to play (in conference).”

The season started with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at No. 2 UCLA where the Bruins scored the game-winner in the final seconds. On Saturday night at George Allen Field in the last nonconference game, LBSU goalkeeper Imani McDonald made three saves in the final minute of overtime to help her team salvage a 2-2 draw with Loyola Marymount.

“I think all of us learned our lesson against UCLA,” McDonald said. “When something happens, I’m never going to let it happen again. My teammates are out there killing themselves for me, and I can’t let that slow rolling ball across the net go in.”

The game with LMU also included some history for LBSU striker Ashley Gonzales. The senior scored her 33rd career goal in the sixth minute off of a phenomenal ball over the top from Chloe Froment. The career mark ties Gonzales with Janet Fettig (1984-86) for the all-time program record.

“I saw Chole, and I know she has that dinger of a kick, so I knew she was going to get it to me,” Gonzales said. “We practiced it all week. I just had to get on the end of it, and I did. It was really exciting.”

Gonzales said she didn’t know that her next goal would tie her for the career-goals record.

“I didn’t even know it was going to be historic,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t know until they subbed me off and they told me about it.”

Last year, Gonzales injured her knee early in the first game of the season against UCLA, and received a medical redshirt for this year.

“Everything motivated me to come back,” she said. “My team and my coaches, I couldn’t thank them enough for allowing me to play again and supporting me through the whole thing.”

Gonzales has a team-high four goals, 11 shots on goal and 10 total points this season.

“She brings the energy,” Ingrassia said of Gonzales. “She makes players around her better. I’m happy for her that she tied the record. With a little better finishing, she could’ve beaten it. But at least she’s getting the opportunities.”

LBSU took a 2-0 lead on LMU at the half-hour mark, but the Lions scored two headers off of corner kicks to pull even. The Beach outshot the visitors 22-13.

“That’s a game that got away from us with every missed opportunity that we had,” Ingrassia said. “The ones you don’t put into the net trickle into your own net. At least we kept the tie, thanks to Imani, and didn’t lose. Games like that can easily slip away.”

McDonald, who has allowed 10 goals in nine games with 43 saves, admitted that her team hasn’t always been strong against set pieces, and that a different mindset can help them solidify their defense.

“It’s a little bit more mental dexterity and mindfulness in those key times,” McDonald said. “We’re not the tallest team, I’ve been the same height since the ninth grade, so it’s just being mentally aware and knowing how to get them off their game as much as possible.”

Both McDonald and Gonzales agreed that this team is different from the last year’s LBSU squad that failed to reach the conference tournament. The Beach won the title in 2016.

“We have heart,” McDonald said. “It’s just having that passion and courage to continue to play. This (LMU) game was a normal conference game. It was a battle till the end. I’m excited to have this game going into Thursday.”

VIDEO: Set Pieces Settle Long Beach State Soccer Draw With LMU

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.