Western Washington’s Dayana Diaz, a Granite Falls graduate, celebrates during an NCAA Division II national semifinal match against Columbus State on Dec. 1, 2022, at Interbay Stadium in Seattle. (WWU photo)

Western Washington’s Dayana Diaz, a Granite Falls graduate, celebrates during an NCAA Division II national semifinal match against Columbus State on Dec. 1, 2022, at Interbay Stadium in Seattle. (WWU photo)

Granite Falls grad plays key role in WWU’s national title

Dayana Diaz was a key piece for the Vikings women’s soccer team this season that recently won the D-II national championship.

There was never a doubt in Dayana Diaz’s mind that she was coming back for one more season with the Western Washington University women’s soccer team.

Her reward? Being able to call herself a national champion.

The Granite Falls High School product was a key figure as the Vikings claimed the NCAA Division II national championship last Saturday in Seattle.

Diaz, a fifth-year senior, started both of third-seeded Western’s games in the Final Four at Interbay Stadium, playing 172 of the 180 minutes as an attacking midfielder. She assisted on the opening goal of the Vikings’ 2-1 semifinal victory over second-seeded Columbus State on Dec. 1. Then she was on the field for Claire Potter’s late winner in Western’s 2-1 victory over top-seeded and previously unbeaten West Chester in the title game.

“I’m so proud of my team,” said Diaz, who broke down crying at the final whistle. “Honestly, I feel like a proud mom. We all came together and lifted one another up, we supported each other, we were there for one another. The love and passion I felt from everyone on the field, it was engulfing. I wanted the (championship) game to end because I wanted to win, but at the same time I didn’t want it to end because of how much fun I was having beside my teammates.”

In the semifinal, the game was scoreless through the first half, but Diaz made the move early in the second half that gave Western control. In the 49th minute she stepped between two Columbus State players to take the ball away, split another pair of defenders as she dribbled toward the top of the penalty box, then rolled a delicate pass to Sophie Bearden Croft wide open on the right. Bearden Croft put a shot in off the left post to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead. Bearden Croft added a second later in the half before the Cougars got a late goal to pull back within one.

“Actually, I’ve been trying to remember it, but my mind moves so fast in games and I kind of blacked out,” Diaz said when asked to describe her assist. “Watching the film, I guess I just felt confident in taking a chance because I knew my teammates had my back. I took a chance, then dribbled at their back line. I don’t even remember seeing Sophie out wide, either my peripheral vision saw her or maybe I heard her calling for the ball. It’s all a blur.”

Then in the championship game, the teams traded first-half goals before Potter broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute, scoring from an acute angle outside the right side of the penalty box. It looked like it may have been a cross that fortunately found the net. However Diaz, who had a front-row view of the play, confirmed that Potter was actually shooting for goal.

“When she went out wide and at the angle she was at, I was like, ‘Shoot, I need to get to the back post because I’m not at the back post yet,’” Diaz said. “I started running to the back post and she took the shot and I was like, ‘Dang, no way!’ It was exciting and thrilling, I couldn’t believe she pulled that out.”

Last Saturday wasn’t the first time Diaz had a brush with the national championship. In 2019 she was a sophomore when the Vikings reached the title game. On that occasion Western dominated Grand Valley State, but lost 1-0 in overtime. Diaz played 67 minutes in the encounter and registered three shots.

But Diaz, one of just four players who appeared in the 2019 championship game who are still on Western’s roster, didn’t consider this year’s national championship redemption for coming up just short three years earlier.

“It was painful that we lost (in 2019),” Diaz said. “But at the same time I wouldn’t have changed it. I still loved it, and losing that game didn’t mean that the whole season was for nothing, or that it was going to change the way I felt about my team. I was so proud and happy that I got to play alongside all those players.”

The national title was the perfect cap to an epic career. Diaz played five full seasons with the Vikings, gaining an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic — “There was no way I wasn’t going to come back,” Diaz said. During that time Diaz played just about every position for Western other than goalkeeper, eventually settling into the attacking-midfield role she played while starting 23 of the Vikings’ 25 games this season, notching three goals and an assist. She broke the program record for career games played with 101.

“It’s an honor,” Diaz said about setting the career games played record. “It’s an honor to put on that jersey and step on the field. I never took any of those games or practices for granted because you never really know when the last one will be. It was an honor and I loved and enjoyed every second.

“Heck, next year I’m going to come back, too — but as one of the biggest supporters.”

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