Bellevue 2-1 Holy Names
I'm not even sure where to begin with tonight's recap. Should I start with Claire's amazing game-winning goal with only 1 minute left in regulation? Our third consecutive last-minute goal to win or tie in elimination playoff games. Perhaps I should begin with CarlyT's thunderbolt from 20yds after 30minutes to give us a well-deserved lead? All worthy and memorable moments from today's state-tournament-birth clinching victory. But no, I'm going to start with the vanilla ice cream of simply playing good soccer. It's not the salted-caramel-Belgian-dark-chocolate-espresso that is a dramatic game-winner, but when our team does the simple technical things well (pass, trap, defend), it might not be dramatic, but it is sweetly satisfying. In less metaphorical terms: for the first time in weeks, we played a really solid game of soccer against a good opponent. Our team anticipated passing lanes and made aggressive tackles on defense, and on offense we regularly choose simple poised passes over "boot and hope" choices from earlier in the week. And even if every pass didn't find it's intended destination, our positive play set a tone of confidence and skill that became irresistible. Infectious. Suddenly everyone in navy blue showed they wanted the ball by making good angles for their teammates. It was a joy to watch.
My only quibble was that we didn't put Holy Names away when we had them on the ropes in the first half. Because all credit to Cougars, they bent but they didn't break. And in the 2nd half they began to get back into the game, slowly gaining territorial advantages that weren't there in the first half when we mostly kept them pinned in their half. It's almost as if we began our "end-of-game" tactics too early with a slender 1-0 lead and over 25minutes remaining in the 2nd half. That's a valid tactical choice with 10 minutes to go, but 25minutes of ultra-conservative clearances from our backline is too long to maintain. And Holy Names began to pick up those clearances and turn them into real chances (to our D's credit, still not many, the shot count for the game was 13-3, but still...).The first warning was Holy Names' only corner kick of the game with less than 10 minutes remaining. And we were very fortunate that their tall #3 sent her uncontested free header at the back post high and over our crossbar. We simply cannot allow better teams free looks at goal from corner kicks and expect to go unpunished. But we did, and we got lucky. But that corner was only grim foreshadowing of what was to happen a few minutes later. The Cougars were awarded a free kick on their right wing when their forward fouled Courtney yet somehow got the kick in her favor. Not a great call, but the free kick wasn't in the most dangerous position being 30yds from goal and at a very wide angle, so I wasn't worried. But I should've been. The subsequent shot was hard and knuckling and found the back of our net. A really great equalizer from a team that didn't quit. 1-1 and suddenly all seemed darkness and despair for us as I began to edit my OT and shootout plans for what seemed the probable outcome.
But with this team, we are all Han Solo in the asteroids: "never tell me the odds." I have never ever been involved with a team that has such a flair for dramatic endings. It really is extraordinary. Two minutes later and one Claire super-shot at the death and we were resurrected. Darkness and despair transformed into bright rejoicing and dancing. And so it is only fitting that we will continue to dance into the 2017 state tournament. We are one of only 16 teams that have a chance at a championship this season. I couldn't be prouder of our girls.
Our next opponent is Gig Harbor, the #1 seed from district 3 in the south sound area. The exact date and time is TBD but likely Tuesday at Gig Harbor. Road trip.
As I've told the girls repeatedly the last few weeks, there isn't a team I fear in this entire state tournament. Respect, yes. Fear, no. When we play to our potential, we are good enough to beat anybody. Anywhere. Anytime. And so if we put in the kind of quality of performance we gave today vs Holy Names, we have as good a chance as any to keep the garishly enormous championship trophy in the Bellevue trophy case. I believe.
Our magic number has gone from 7 to 4. FTJ.
So many. Backline was stout: Claire, Sky, Mia, Caylee and Court, supported by AnaJ, Del, CarlyT and Audrey in front of them provided great cover for each other. And a special shout out to Jo, CarlieG, kiley and Izzy for chasing down HNA midfielders when we needed the extra help from our wingers. Team defense is played with 11, not just the back four; Kiley Suter was simply resplendent up front. So so so good. Kiley made a very solid and experienced all-senior HNA backline look off-balance and nervous all game. She takes so much pressure off of our team by skillfully holding the ball and letting other players make runs off her possession. She didn't get on the scoresheet today, but in every other respect was magnificent; CarlyT's thunderbolt (and overall play). Wow; Claire's thunderbolt, wow wow; Mia coming off the bench with a cough and head cold, with no warm-up, deep in the 2nd half after Sky got a bloody nose, and playing as calm and strong as ever. Colds and sniffles are part of any athlete's experience, we can't feel our best every game, and several of our girls gutted out great performances today even when they weren't at their physical best. Mia gets the recognition on behalf of everyone who wasn't feeling great. To play well when not feeling great is great; Kay's "FTJ" gatorade bottles; music and selfies on the bus; the energy from our bench today was awesome. So supportive and united. I'm acutely aware that everyone on the bench would rather be on the field, but to give positive energy to your teammates when you find yourself in that role is commendable, mature, and necessary for any team to be successful in a playoff run.
Bring on the Tides.