Bellevue 1-1 (5-4PKs) Seattle Prep; State Quarterfinals
I've never been a Miachiavellist. I don't believe the ends justify the means. I care very much that the means are done well, fairly, and with honest intentions. However, the ends matter too. A lot. English teachers wouldn't gush so much about Odysseus and the benefits of his journey if the cyclops smashed him with a rock. You have to dodge a few boulders and get home safely for the journey to have full impact.
And home in this pretentious metaphor is Sparks Stadium in Puyallup where the final four is hosted every year. We made it our home last year in our program's first ever state championship, and we've wanted to get back ever since. Yes, we've endured our share of challenges on the way: we graduated a large class of seniors; we lost a few more to DA; we had a devastating injury to one of our own 7 minutes into our season; we had setbacks against our biggest rival; and had several more frustrating nights when we've been statistically dominant, but failed to get the result we wanted. But we kept sailing on. Past lotus-eaters, one-eyed giants, nasty storms and straight through Scylla and Charybdis and into the state semi-finals. We're going back to Puyallup.
Our journey so far has been amazing. Almost unbelievable. Homer couldn't make this stuff up. In our fifth "must-win" playoff game in a row, we beat another very good opponent in PK's, our third PK win in five games (with the other two won with a golden goal in 2OTs and a last-minute regulation goal respectively). We didn't take the easy path back to Sparks. But we definitely took the most dramatic.
We didn't start particularly well against Seattle Prep (understatement alert). We were timid and nervous and Prep quickly punished us for our lack of poise and confidence. On Thursday, we watched film from Prep's 1st round game versus Shorecrest that highlighted how the Panthers like to set-up for free kicks in the attacking half of the field. Prep scored a goal versus Shorecrest from forty yards out, hitting a driven ball directly at the keeper and sent their excellent #18 rushing towards goal in an attempt to flick the ball past the opposing keeper. And so the coaching staff couldn't have been more frustrated when we saw the exact same thing happen to us. Exact. FK to Prep, driven ball towards our keeper, and #18 easily flicked on a header and after 7 minutes we were behind. And deservedly so. We knew better.
But thankfully, soccer games aren't 7 minutes long, and we still had an entire game to learn to ignore the siren song of nervousness and timidity. After the Prep goal, we learned our lesson. We began to play with urgency. We began to play with a bit more confidence. We began to create chances of our own. Earn corners. Make their keeper work a bit (and she did, excellently well). Finally, in the 28th minute, we got our equalizer. Kiley rounded the corner on the left wing and sent in a sublime cross over the Prep goalkeeper and Izzy was there to powerfully head the ball home. It hasn't been the easiest year for our #7, who got hurt in the first 10 minutes of practice after we named the varsity team back in August, and has struggled to find her form as she got healthy. The coaching staff never ever doubted her talent and dedication, but you can't order someone to regain her pre-injury confidence. It takes time. And seeing Izzy's look of pure joy after scoring in the state quarter-final was a memory I'll keep forever. Just perfect.
I respect Prep and their soccer program. They have excellent players and their coaching staff prepares their team for success. They play hard and look to combine all over the field. But for the balance of our quarterfinal game after Izzy's goal, we were simply the better team. Before Izzy's goal, we had created approximately the same amount of chances (5/7 shots and 2/1 corners), but after Izzy's goal, we held Prep to 1 shot and one corner the rest of the way (both from the same play later in the 2nd half). And full-game unofficial stats (me): 20/8 shots and 10/2 corners for Bellevue.
But like some of our previous games, we just couldn't find the winning goal in regulation, or at least a winning goal that the referee didn't waive away for a phantom foul. Ahem. But no matter. We enter post-season OTs and PKs with more experience in these situations than any other team in the state. And it showed. Another 5 for 5 PK exhibition, with Kiley emphatically finishing the job with the 5th kick to win it. We have now made 17 of 18 PKs in shootouts during this playoff run. All credit to our kick-takers for another perfect performance: CarlyT, Caylee, AnaJ, Jo and Kiley. Senior power.
But our journey isn't done yet. Yes, we've earned our way back to Sparks. But for defending champions, that's just another challenge on our way home. There is only one ultimate destination. And it includes a big-ass trophy on Saturday afternoon. FTJ.
Our next challenge is the state semi-final versus undefeated Stadium HS at 4pm on Friday. Challenges don't get any easier as you get close to a title. We'll need to be at our best next weekend.
The magic number is now 2.
After a slow start, I thought our backline just kept getting better and better all game. Well done Court, Caylee, Claire, Mia and Sky, with a special shout-out to Claire who was assigned the challenging task of defending Prep's best player and Notre Dame-commit Bea Franklin. Bea was good (scored her team's only goal), but I thought Claire was excellent and matched Bea's pace and physicality, especially in the 2nd half and OTs; I'm giving special recognition to Coach Kay for immediately recognizing when Prep made a formational change early in the 2nd half. Prep sent two forwards, including #18, up front instead of their usual single striker and it caused us problems and some initial confusion; so we made an adjustment of our own, sending in Mia to help with the dual forwards and withdrawing one of our holding midfielders. This left CarlyT as our lone holding midfielder, which is a risk, but thereafter we were much much much more stable in our backline and it also freed up our fullbacks to push into the midfield. From that moment forward, we weren't really challenged again. Kudos to Kay for seeing the formational change first. It takes a staff, and i'm immensely proud of our staff. And more kudos to Mia and Carly for taking the unrehearsed tactical shift in stride and making it work in their respective roles (and to Del & AnaJ who found themselves on the bench for reasons they couldn't control but accepted it with a team-first attitude); Audrey showed no nerves in yet another wonderful performance from our freshman; AnnaB gave us more impactful minutes in the first OT; Del and AnaJ were warriors in the middle before we switched formations; our front-line attack were consistently dangerous all night and did their jobs on defense too: well done CarlieG, Jo, Izzy and Kiley; AnaJ made another must-make PK after coming on late in the 2OT; but finally, Kiley was Kiley. I've run out of superlatives other than I'm so thankful that she's on our team.