Shot out of state

On an otherwise dry and cold night at Lakewood Stadium in Tacoma, the turf on the infield was wet with tears Saturday evening. It could hardly be helped.

Having compiled a 21-0 record since the start of the season in September, the South Whidbey High School girls soccer team had their perfection spoiled in the last and most important game of 2003. In an all-defense battle with a team from Connell High School, the Falcons lost the 2A Washington state championship game 1-0 in a shootout after being the top team for the entire season.

After the Connell Eagles made their winning shot 4-2 in the extra period, the Falcons — who had gathered in a group for the shootout — sat stunned for just a moment at midfield. Allyson Riggs, the Falcons’ junior goalkeeper, laid on her face near her goal, sobbing and inconsolable. It was a feeling she had barely kept down as she worked to save the game.

“I had to recover quickly because I was getting emotional,” she said, looking back on a performance in which she had gotten her hands on three of five of the Eagle’s kicks.

Though it was a sad end for the most successful soccer season in South Whidbey history, the Falcons made a good accounting for themselves as a team that deserved to win a state championship. After beating Eatonville 2-0 in Friday’s tournament semifinal round, the South Whidbey girls came out strong Saturday against a team that had absolutely no give. For 80 minutes, neither the Falcons nor the Eagles managed much headway past midfield as the best two defensive units in the 2A division intercepted nearly every pass and disposed of almost every shot in the vicinity of either team’s goal.

What turned the game was something for which the team had no plans. Thirty minutes into scoreless regulation, sophomore midfielder Katie Watson went down with a knee injury while on a drive toward the Connell goal. Watson, the team’s third-leading scorer, had kicked the winning goals in state tournament games against Vashon and Eatonville. When she went down, couldn’t get back up and had to be carried off the field, she began to suffer through her own personal purgatory, one that would last the remainder of the game as she sat on the sidelines.

“It was the worst thing in the world,” she said. “I just really wish I could have helped.”

Riggs, watching from her goal, had the same feeling. Watson’s injury just confirmed what she knew from the start of the game.

“I was mentally prepared, but there was something off about this game,” she said. “I knew it would come down to a shootout.”

That something was that, on offense, the Falcons were largely stymied. Though the team managed a few quality shots on goal over 80 minutes, nothing made it into the net. With Watson out of the game, South Whidbey’s strikers and remaining midfielders struggled to make plays happen. Senior striker Claudia Gil-Osorio — who led the team this season with 33 goals — was marked by the defense throughout the game and rarely got free of the players shadowing her. At the same time, sophomore Jenna Wild, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms during the game, was slowed somewhat and had to spend about 10 minutes on the sidelines.

Falcon coach Paul Arand said that even with the handicaps, his players pushed themselves throughout, particularly freshman midfielder Kelsey Kimmel and Watson’s replacement, Amy Pfeiffer. But without Watson’s disruptive, playmaking ability on the field, his team lacked the edge it needed to win.

“We really needed that extra little punch,” he said.

Teasing the Falcons throughout regulation and two five-minute overtime periods was the fact that the game remained knotted at zero. Keeping it this way was the team’s defensive unit. Having career games were senior defenders Lena Ishii, Willa Purser and Taryn Langlois, as well as sophomore Rita Jones. The unit allowed few multi-touch plays more than 10 yards into their zone, something for which coach Arand gave particular credit to Ishii.

“She was on fire,” he said.

About 200 fans, who travelled to Tacoma from Whidbey Island to watch the game, noticed the defensive play. With the offense mired in a battle to even get past midfield, the fans gave most of their cheers to the defensive steals and clearing shots.

On the two occasions the defenders couldn’t stop the Eagle rush, Allyson Riggs was ready. Her prettiest save on the night came in the second half when she made a slide tackle on an Eagle striker to the right side of the goal while simultaneously grabbing the ball.

When it came to the shootout, the Falcons were at a disadvantage. With Watson out of the kicking lineup, the Falcons had to rely on some less-tried feet. Scoring were Wild and Watson’s substitute, Langlois. Three other South Whidbey shots, including one by Gil-Osorio — were stopped by Connell’s goalkeeper.

When Riggs took her turn in the net, she knew she was facing a team that had won its previous two games in shootouts. Facing four shots, she got her hands on three, but all of them skittered into the goal. With the last, the Eagles erupted in a cheer at midfield: Riggs collapsed beside the goal and didn’t move until her teammates and Falcon assistant coach Mike Cotton picked her up and led her away.

Talking about the shootout on Sunday, Riggs’ coach said he saw his keeper play her best game of the season, even though it didn’t end the way the team wanted.

“She outplayed the other keeper,” he said.

Riggs said it took until Monday for her and some other members of the team to reconcile themselves to the fact that placing second in state is a big accomplishment. Though they wanted more, the way the game played out played to one of the team’s few weaknesses.

“It was just luck,” she said of Connell’s victory.

The Falcons end the season with the best record of any 2A team in the state and the best scoring year by any South Whidbey girls team with 71 goals against all opponents and 15 allowed. Riggs ends the season with 12 shutouts to her credit and a 1.6 goals against per game average against a total of 99 shots. Her backup keeper, Ashley Cotton, ends the year with an 8.5 average, but faced just 17 shots, letting in two.

The Falcons move up to 3A competition next year. Graduating off the team are Gil-Osorio, Ishii, Purser, Langlois Anna Gilles, Britt Hansen, Liz Jeffers and Natalie Schmidt.

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