Whew! Soccer wins a thriller

With an unanticipated challenge facing them in a district playoff game Tuesday night, the South Whidbey girls soccer team needed, and got, some unexpected help.

Having spent the previous five days in a Seattle-area hospital recovering from a long-untreated bout with the flu, senior Falcon forward Claudia Gil-Osorio traded her hospital gown for shorts, jersey and cleats on the spur of the moment to lead her team to a 3-1 playoff victory just hours after being discharged from treatment.

Playing against Nooksack Valley in a night game at Mount Vernon High School, the Falcons needed Gil-Osorio — who scored two goals on the night — to lead them past the Pioneers, a team which until this week had been unable to challenge South Whidbey all season. In two games over the previous two months, the Falcons had beaten the Pioneers by a combined score of 7-0.

The Falcons left South Whidbey earlier that afternoon without Gil-Osorio on the bus and did not expect her to play, let alone get out of the hospital in time to watch the game, a second-round, winner-to-state playoff. But when the team arrived at Mount Vernon’s brand-new artificial turf field, Gil-Osorio was waiting, uniform donned and cleats sunk into the plastic shag of the field. She warmed up with the team, then told her coach, Paul Arand, and her father that she was going to play.

“Once I got out there and saw my teammates, I knew I couldn’t sit out,” she said.

It was a good thing she didn’t. After their earlier face offs against the Falcons, the Pioneers played frustratingly effective defense during the chilliest game of the year. As frost settled on portions of the field, the Pioneers blocked up their offensive zone, double-teamed Falcon strikers Gil-Osorio and Jenna Wild and, when in doubt, repeatedly booted the ball to midfield or deeper to stall South Whidbey’s offense.

Surprisingly, it was Gil-Osorio who made the first strike. Though visibly slowed by her recent illness, the senior forward made up for it with positioning. Set up in front of the Nooksack goal midway through the first half, she hauled in a perfect crossing shot from Wild and just touched it past the Pioneer goalkeeper Jenny McDonald to post a 1-0 lead.

That lead lasted until the seventh minute of the second half, when after one diving save by Falcon keeper Allyson Riggs, Pioneer Mallory Visser booted the rebound into the net.

With the Nooksack defense tightening down after the score, the Falcons had to use a different method to take back the lead. On a drive in the 61st minute, the team turned the ball over to its strongest, most accurate long kicker, sophomore midfielder Katie Watson, who hammered the ball from 25 yards to give her team the winning goal.

After that, the Falcons put the game on the ice Mother Nature was providing. Senior defender Lena Ishii ran down the only serious Nooksack challenge in the second half, a breakaway that ended with Ishii running off with the ball. Then, in the 75th minute, Gil-Osorio made sure there was no doubt. Following a tall looper by sophomore defender Rita Jones into the Nooksack zone, Gil-Osorio beat McDonald a second time to notch the 3-1 win.

With the victory, the Falcons guarantee themselves a berth at the state tournament, something they were unable to do last year. They go back to Mount Vernon Saturday afternoon to play Blaine, the team that ended South Whidbey’s playoff run in 2002. The winner of the 2 p.m. game will be crowned district champion and will take home-field advantage and a top seeding into the state tournament.

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