She’s one of the smallest players on the team, but soft-spoken Makamae Gomera-Stevens has delivered the biggest boost to the Washington State women’s soccer team on its historic run through the NCAA tournament the past three weeks.
‘Mak’ and the Cougars (16-6-1) face second-ranked North Carolina (23-1-1) at 4 p.m. Friday (ESPNU) at Avaya Stadium in San Jose in the College Cup as one of the tournament’s final four teams.
If it weren’t for the junior forward from Kapolei, Hawaii, the Cougs likely would be watching the game from their couches.
In the opening round against Memphis, Gomera-Stevens scored the game’s lone goal in the 62nd minute. In the second round, the forward assisted on WSU’s first goal against No. 3 Virginia in the 13th minute — a quick start that led to a 3-2 upset.
Two days later, Gomera-Stevens tallied the game-winner against West Virginia in a 3-0 blowout to send the team to its first ever Elite Eight, where the Cougs beat No. 5 South Carolina 1-0 in overtime Friday.
“She’s a sneaky player that needs the ball at her feet,” WSU coach Todd Shulenberger said. “When she makes things happen, she’s pretty dangerous as a goal-scorer and as a playmaker with assists, so we want Mak to get the ball as much as we can.”
Shulenberger said as Gomera-Stevens’ confidence has risen, so has her level of play. Now, she’s having a breakout performance when the Cougs need it most.
“I think that’s the thing where when we are winning game after game, I think it’s easier for everyone to play (like) themselves,” Gomera-Stevens said Monday at WSU’s Lower Soccer Field.
“We’re reminded to remember why we started playing soccer — being those little girls again.”
Gomera-Stevens said she’s been kicking around a soccer ball for as long as she can remember.
During her senior year at Kamehameha Kapalama High, she scored 27 goals as a team captain — more than four other teams scored for the season in the league.
“I think the most important thing is that no matter what, soccer has kind of been my constant,” Gomera-Stevens said. “Like even if school isn’t going well or say I have problems with my friends or something, I can always just come on the field and play the game that I grew up playing ... so it’s kind of my way of therapy.”
On the season, Gomera-Stevens has four goals, tied for third on the team, and five assists, tied for second with four others.
Her partner in the attacking third is fellow forward and team leader Morgan Weaver (14 goals, 5 assists), easily a future Cougar Hall of Famer. Weaver leads WSU in the postseason with three goals and two assists.
The pairs’ bond helps create a seamless attack for the Cougs.
“I think we both understand how each other plays,” Gomera-Stevens said, “so I know when she gets the ball ... I kind of put myself in a position that either I’m gonna be there for the rebound, or (to get the ball).
“I don’t know if you can see it on camera, but we do talk a lot during the game to keep up with each other. Just making sure that we’re on the same page.”
In a wild, postseason laden with upsets by the surging Cougs, it’s fitting some of the biggest plays have come from not only a star like Weaver, but an under-the-radar playmaker like Gomera-Stevens.
Sometimes, her opponents literally don’t see her coming. Like when Gomera-Stevens flew in from the flank to steal the ball in the box and fire home the first goal against unsuspecting West Virginia.
Her teammates think the best is yet to come.
“Honestly, I don’t even think she’s show everything she can do yet,” sophomore Mykiaa Minniss said. “She’s just now warming up, so I think that Mak is a deadly weapon that we have and I’m so excited to see what she does with it.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @StephanSports.