Dana Fujikuni started her collegiate soccer career at UC Davis, transferred to Long Beach State in 2015, was named Big West Midfielder of the Year on Wednesday and then scored the game-winner against UC Davis on Thursday.
The 49th minute goal in the first Big West Conference semifinal at UC Irvine proved enough as LBSU took down the Aggies 1-0 to advance to its fourth conference tournament championship game in the last five years.
“I always like to say that Long Beach State is in the conversation,” LBSU coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “This senior class is the rock of our program. They stepped up for the last 12 months and they’re getting rewarded now.”
Both teams looked determined to take a hold of the proceedings in the scoreless first half, and that created very few scoring opportunities. The most dangerous came in the first ten minutes from LBSU forwards Kayla Cannon and Rocio Rodriguez.
LBSU started the second half on the front foot and created the game-winning scoring chance off of a long throw in from Sarah Pilster. Katie Pingel collected an errant flick on the far side, and shook her defender on the way to the back line. Her cross into the penalty box was one-timed onto the post by Fujikuni, and the ball bounced down the goal line where Cannon finished it. She initially got credit for the goal, but told coaches after that it was already in from Fujikuni before she put it home.
Fujikuni is the fifth LBSU player since 2006 to win Big West Midfielder of the Year award, and the senior downplayed her importance in this game during the press conference.
“Every game we come to is a championship game,” she said. “We have to treat it like that, and we can’t just come out casual. We have to be in that mindset every game.”
“She’s one of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to coach,” Ingrassia said of Fujikuni. “She’s grown each season, she’s a tireless worker and has a great heart for the team. This year she stepped up to a whole new level. It’s almost like the game became easier for her.”
The LBSU defense took over for the last half hour as senior goalkeeper Imani McDonald only needed four saves for her 11th clean sheet of the season. LBSU and UC Davis played a 3-3 draw last week.
“Coming into this game we absolutely wanted revenge given that we should’ve won,” McDonald said of the previous meeting. “I’ll take fault for two of those goals, so I knew that I owed my team a much better performance.”
LBSU will face UC Santa Barbara on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the conference tournament championship. The 49ers are trying win a fourth Big West Tournament title and earn a seventh NCAA Tournament appearance.
“It’s very satisfying to win a game like that at this time of year,” Ingrassia said.