Utah State may practice penalty kicks every week, but it's a long way from accomplishing the feat live. In fact, in the 18 years the program has been around, the Aggies have never had a game go to penalty kicks.
First time's the charm? Utah State (10-6-5) got scores from Jennifer Flynn, Jamie Duke, Sarah Lorscheider and finally McCallson to wrap up a 4-2 PK win over New Mexico on Tuesday night. The result gave Utah State a berth through to Thursday's semifinals, when they'll take on No. 1 San Diego State at 7 p.m.
After her team's nerves of steel paid off against the Lobos, coach Heather Cairns said she's feeling cool and confident to tackle the Aztecs.
"It's been a fun and crazy two days, and it's challenging the way the tournament is set up to go back-to-back," she said. "But our girls have played well in our last two games, and we're very excited."
A 2-0 win Monday over Nevada and Tuesday's game against New Mexico had a common thread: a stalwart goalkeeper in the net.
Freshman Natalie Stoven, taking over in goal late in the season, held the Wolfpack and the Lobos scoreless through two regulations and a pair of overtimes. Cairns credited her emotional steadiness, but Stoven credited her teammates.
"It's really my defensive line in front of me has been solid," she said. "I really depend on them."
When it came to penalty kicks, however, all Stoven had between her and the ball was 12 yards of open turf. Stoven, who had been in her share of these situations as a prep star, steeled herself.
She missed the first two, but managed to cling to the last pair the Lobos sent her way.
"She really stood her ground," Cairns said. "She didn't jump too soon. That was huge for us."
The Aggies got a day to recover Wednesday and spend some time in Albuquerque, N.M. But from here on out, it's all business as the team looks to go to another NCAA Tournament.
"We won [a conference tourney] last year, but with all new teams and a higher level of competition, it's tougher," McCallson said. "We're a family, though, and we all know we can trust each other. There's no weak link."
No. 5 Utah State vs. No. 1 San Diego State
Mountain West Tournament semifinals
UNM Soccer Complex, Albuquerque, N.M.
Thursday, 7 p.m.