South Whidbey girls soccer clinched a berth to the state championships for the first time since 2003 on Saturday.
The Falcons finished fifth in the 1A Bi-District tournament on Oct. 31-Nov. 4 at Sultan High School with two wins and one loss; the top five teams advanced to state. The Emerald City League’s Seattle Academy won the tournament, while King’s, Overlake and Lynden Christian placed second, third and fourth, respectively.
South Whidbey (9-12-1 overall) played Klahowya (17-1) in the first round on Tuesday night at Silverdale Stadium after The Record’s deadline.
“It’s awesome,” said senior Mikayla Hezel regarding the accomplishment. “We’re such a young team and to make it that far with the majority of our team being sophomores is absolutely incredible.”
The girls soccer program has seen its fair share of ups and downs since the early 2000s, which included a state berth in 2001 and a second place finish in 2003. South Whidbey averaged about five wins per season between 2009 and 2013, but were winless in 2014. South Whidbey won just four games in 2015 and 2016.
Hezel attributed the Falcons’ success to being a tight-knit group.
“That helps a lot with the success of our team,” Hezel said.
Young as they are, the Falcons still managed to find a way to beat Meridian 2-0 in the loser-out, state-qualifying match on Saturday. The team knew what was at stake against Meridian, but they didn’t bat an eye.
First-year head coach Terry Swanson said the Falcons had only 13 players, meaning only two substitutes were available.
“What is most remarkable to me as coach is that these girls have played 22 soccer games in 60 days and most recently six playoff games in 11 days,” Swanson said. “A typical Falcon starter will run five to six miles in an 80-minute game. As we move onto State our players are still laughing at practice and singing on the bus rides home whether we win or we lose because they know they have left everything on the field.”
It was the second time the Falcons had survived in a make-or-break game this past week, the last being Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over University Prep in the first round of the tournament. Sophomores Karyna Hezel and Allison Papritz scored the Falcons’ two goals against Meridian, while the defense shut the Trojans down the rest of the way.
“Our defense is so incredibly solid,” Mikayla Hezel said.
The Falcons are well aware their opening round match against Klahowya won’t be easy.
“Honestly, we could be happy either way because we’ve made it this far,” Hezel said. “We want to win.”