Bellevue 4-1 LW
4th min 1-0 Alex (Leah)
20th min 2-0 Alex (Mia)
51st min 2-1 LW goal
55th min 2-1 LW missed PK
65th min 3-1 Mia (Alex)
72nd min 4-1 Alex (Raina)
The 2023 Kingco Champion is Bellevue Girls Soccer!!!
Be Fearless and play. That was my message to our team before we kicked off against LW in the Kingco Championship. Opportunities to play for a trophy in a final are rare. At any level. Nerves can jangle. Butterflies can flutter. Senses working overtime. Thoughts get foggier. And time moves more quickly but somehow also more slowly...and those feelings are wonderful! Playing in a final is so so special. It's to be cherished. So all I wanted for our team was to absorb all those emotions, enjoy the slightly queasy joyous anticipation of a big game, be fearless, and play.
It is difficult to beat a good team three times in a season. LW knows our tendencies and personnel, and we know theirs. But there is a difference between understanding a team and stopping them. Was the game pretty? Absolutely not. The first half more closely resembled a scrum in the Rugby World Cup (congratulations S. Africa) than the flowing poetry of the beautiful game. But that's the thing about playing a fall-season high school sport like girls soccer, by late October and November, the conditions worsen, and a team needs to be able to win in lots of different ways. It's like the old cliche in the NFL that passing teams own August and September, but by December and January, if you want to contend for a championship, you need to be able to run the ball and play solid defense. The same is true in high school girls soccer. When conditions allow, we can play a fast, flowing passing possession game, but sometimes, when the ball and field are slippery slick, the air is cold, there are more throw-ins than connected passes, and your opponent is launching a relentless amount of long balls at your backline, we can field a line-up that can win with tackle toughness, aerial superiority, and lightning quick counter-attacks. And that's what we did.
The first few minutes set a positive tone for our girls. In the 4th minute, Mia got around the LW defense on the left wing and earned a corner. LW cleared but Maddy recovered and recycled the ball back to Mia who sent a cross into a dangerous area, Lillian and Leah both battled LW defenders for the ball, Leah emerged victorious and slid a simple pass across the box to Alex who finished from 8 yards. 1-0 Bellevue. Gritty. Then in the 20th minute, we added a second. Mia alertly tucked inside from the wing on defense, and when the LW midfielder took a heavy touch trying to switch the ball, Mia was in the right place to win the challenge just inside our half. And she was off. 60 yards and several desperate LW defenders later, Mia cut-back a delightful cross (on the ground) that Alex hammered home from 10 yards. Devastatingly quick, clever, direct, and efficient. And it all started with good defensive positioning and awareness. Halftime score. 2-0 Bellevue.
We discussed cleaning up a few things at half (more patience, better communication, FTJ, trying to pass the ball to players wearing blue jerseys, etc.) and took the field confident but wary of an inevitable LW push. And yet, for the first ten minutes of the 2nd half, we maintained control of the game. It still wasn't glittering football, but we weren't put under a lot of pressure either. Then in the 51st minute, the LW center-back launched yet another innocuous-looking, long, looping ball towards our box which we allowed to bounce (unacceptable), and even worse, we didn't challenge for the 2nd ball ("you take it"; "no, no, I insist, you take it: "oh really, I couldn't impose, you take it..."). Finally, the LW attacker ignored our deferential indecision and simply hit the ball into the open net from 6 yards. 2-1 Bellevue. Frustrating. But mistakes happen, and we move on. But then on top of that, we had some odd refereeing just a few minutes later. For the most part, I thought our crew did a good job managing the game, the center had a respectful and decisive demeanor, and although the game wasn't perfect (no game is), it was never out-of-control or tilted either way; BUT, I'm still perplexed at how the LW forward was able to push Amber down (hard) outside of our box (the video is so clear, straight-arm push...) without a foul, and the subsequent scramble in the box led to a PK. Yes, it was a clear and deserved PK, but if high school soccer had VAR, the penalty would've been waived away due to the clear and obvious infraction in the build-up. But no VAR. So the PK stood. And this was the pivotal moment of the game. With a successful PK, the score would've been tied and the entire tone of the game would've shifted dramatically. However, Emilie stood her ground, made herself big and intimidating, and the LW shooter sent the ball high and wide. Unjust bullet dodged.
Less than ten minutes after that, in the 65th minute, we had restored our two-goal advantage. Leah won the ball at midfield with excellent pressing and then nutmeg-passed the ball through the legs of the charging LW defender to Alex who was playing striker. Alex in the open field with only two defenders to beat is a terrifying nightmare for a center-back. So it was fitting, on the night before Halloween, that Alex would make LW nightmares come true, splitting the center-back and fullback with one touch and racing alone on goal before firing a hard shot that the Kang keeper did well to parry...but only as far as a sprinting Mia, who had worked hard to support the run and got her reward by blasting the rebound into the back of the net from 6 yards. 3-1 Bellevue. Our sideline shelter was jumping in celebration. In the 73rd minute, the icing was spread on the victory cake, as Alex completed her Kingco Championship hat-trick. Mia again got around her defender on the left wing, crossed to the back post where Raina calmly squared a controlled volley to Alex to master-blaster into the net from 5 yards out. 4-1 Bellevue. Final score.
The AD brought the trophy onto the field where captain Gaby scooped it up and was immediately surrounded by the rest of the 2023 Kingco Champion Bellevue Wolverines In a jumping, hollering, pink-socked, group hug of happiness. Photos. Smiles. Lucky Charms. And the three-peat is complete. This is the 10th (yes tenth!!) consecutive year that Bellevue has played in the Kingco Championship game, and the 2023 title is our third-in-row, with 7 total championship titles during that period. More importantly, our win against LW tonight qualifies us for the 2023 state tournament. We. are. going. to. State!!!
Stats were in our favor, but not overwhelmingly. 15/5 shots/corners to 7/1 for the Kangs. Good enough. Job done.
So what's next? The state tournament seeding and brackets will be released on Sunday afternoon, November 5th. We won't know our fate until then, but we'll likely hold onto our #1 ranking and be given the #1 seed in the tournament, which means that we'll get a BYE in the first round which will be played on Tuesday 11/7. Therefore, we'll host a pod of four teams for the round of 16 at Bellevue High School beginning on Friday, 11/10. If we win our sweet sixteen game, we will advance to play a quarter-final on Saturday, 11/11. The State Tournament Final Four is Nov 17th &18th and is held each year at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup. Every year, our ambition is to go to Sparks. Only four teams get the privilege, and we want to be one of them.
So we have a long rest until our next playoff game. We'll take Tuesday off from training and resume on Wednesday and Thursday this week with Friday another rest day. And next week we'll begin to earnestly prepare for our first state tournament opponent.
Thank you to all of our friends and family, and especially our student supporters for giving us a home-field advantage with enthusiastic cheering and clever heckling ("cucumber?") against LW. It makes a difference.
I'm so proud of our team.
The magic number is four.