40 degrees with a wind chill in the 30s. Raining. And down 1-0 to a good team that was controlling play.
That's the situation FIU's women's soccer team found itself in during the Sun Belt Semifinals against Denver Thursday evening. Yet instead of checking out when the book says Florida-based teams are supposed to do so, they checked in with a game-tying goal by Ashleigh Shim before halftime and two more, from Johanna Volz and Nicole DiPerna, for a 3-1 win that puts them in Saturday afternoon's final against the North Texas-Western Kentucky winner.
A win Saturday and FIU's in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Catherine Liller-Sue Moy Chin 1993 team got into the NCAAs and ran into North Carolina (which, back then, was kind of like running into the Bullettrain).
After Denver took a 1-0 lead, FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said, "It seemed like we woke up. Our level of determination and pride went up."
Chestnutt called Shim's game-tying goal "probably one of the nicest goals we've scored all season." Chelsea Leiva took a pass from April Perry, then found Shim making "a fantastic weak side run," Chestnutt said.
In that weather, it figures that FIU's Pacific Northwest import, Portland native Volz, would get the game-winner. "Chelsea put another brilliant ball to Johanna. The goalkeeper made a good save, but Johanna finished the play. We talk all the time about constantly finishing the play. That's something we've struggled to do all year."
DiPerna's goal came off a penalty kick awarded for a hand ball in the box. Keeper Kaitlyn Savage made the lead last long enough for FIU's season to extend to Saturday. Denver, which will be leaving the Sun Belt, knocked FIU out of the tournament last season, 1-0.
"Last year against them (Denver) in the second half, it was 10 shots to one and they scored late," Chestnutt said. "It made it better that we had to go through them. I told their caoch, I'm disappointed that we're not going to be playing them anymore in the regular season. I think we bring out the best in each other."
FIU opened a three-point favorite at Western Kentucky and has stayed there on most boards. Translation: not much money coming down on either side as serious bettors, the hardcore handicappers, really aren't sure about this game. It's a Sun Belt game. Western's at home and is having a season that surprises most. But they've surely seen FIU more, know that the Panthers have harnessed most opposing running backs and also have made or lost a dime on the Panthers' inconsistency.