GREELEY -- The Northern Colorado soccer team celebrated Friday night's 2-1 win over Eastern Washington with cake and singing. The sounds of "Happy Birthday" resonating off the locker room walls was a perfect way to cap off head coach Tim Barrera's birthday and the team's second win in Big Sky play.
Although the team helped the head coach celebrate his birthday following the match, Barrera's focus was clearly on the big conference win.
"Birthdays are birthdays," Barrera said. "It's really important that we do well at home. It wasn't the greatest first half for us. They were pretty dangerous and they had some pretty good opportunities. They got the goal and it kind of woke us up a little bit."
The Eagles were the first to strike gold after 65 minutes of action. After the second-half score at the Bears' Jackson Stadium, the team was woken up indeed. After taking just three shots in the first half, the team followed in the second half with 10. The two goals that scored for the Bears came less than two minutes apart.
Senior Natalie D'Adamio had been a brick wall all night despite the number of shots put up by EWU. D'Adamio saved four of the Eagles' seven shots in the first half and one in the second half. On the second half save, Nicole Medeiros ran towards the Bears' net and collided legs with D'Adamio. Northern Colorado's keeper laid on the ground in pain, holding her right leg. The Littleton, Colo., native was eventually able to limp off the field but did not return for the remainder of the match.
"It was a leg-to-leg bang so it wasn't the knee," Barrera said. "It was the shin and she got bruised up pretty bad. We'll do some x-rays but it wasn't the knee so that's a good thing."
Enter junior Marissa Cooper, who had previously played in two games this season for a total of just over 13 minutes.
"Marissa stepped up," Barrera said. "She's an experienced player even though she hasn't played much as a junior, so it helped getting her out there without missing a beat."
The Bears took four of its second half 10 shots before Katie Cashman of the Eagles scored her second goal of the season to put EWU up 1-0. Cooper was able to make one save following the goal to keep the Eagles score at one for the night.
The magic of Jackson Stadium kicked in 10 minutes after the Eagles' goal. Tara Rickenbach controlled the ball by the right side of the mid-line before passing to Juliana Grover. Grover then proceeded to take her defender up the right side until reaching the goal line and then turned towards the net. There she put up a cross to Rebecca Lancia, waiting on the left side of the keeper's box, who headed in the shot to tie the match at one.
"Juliana and Becca brought a little extra energy and it made a big difference," Barrera said. "Jules ran by that big defender and had a perfect ball to Becca."
Not even two minutes later, the Bears scored the goal that gave them the game. Ambree Bellin was back near the mid-line and passed the ball up to Danielle Birdsall on the right side of the penalty box. Birdsall, who did not start the game due to a soreness, sent the ball sailing into the left side of the net to set the score at 2-1.
"We made some subs and put on some fresh legs and not only fresh legs, but experienced fresh legs," Barrera said. "We didn't start (Danielle) today [because of soreness] and wanted to reduce her minutes a little bit, but she felt good so we put her back out there."
The Bears were able to control the ball and put up the only shot over the final 14 minutes to finish the match, 2-1.
"All these conference games are usually one goal games," Barrera said. "They put us under some pressure and we dealt with it OK then gave up that goal. I think we are an experienced enough team that we pressed on and said 'OK it's not the end of the world. Let's get the first one, then let's get the second one.'
"I was really proud of the whole team for staying in it and I think that really helped us to press on and get the goals."
Both teams finished with 13 shots on the night. The Bears outnumbered the Eagles in corner kicks in the second half, 3-0, and also for the match, 5-2. D'Adamio made five saves before exiting with an injury while Cooper stepped in and made one save. The Eagles' Nathalie Schwery made four on the night.
Northern Colorado will rest on Saturday before hosting Montana on Sunday at Jackson Stadium, where the Bears have yet to lose. UNC has also given up more than one goal just once in the past nine matches (5-1-3 overall and 2-1-1 in the Big Sky in that time period).
"Coming off a win always helps (carry momentum into the next game)," Barrera said "but every game is its own game and we'll be ready for (Montana)."