There is a saying in sports that more often than not proves to be accurate: Speed kills.
That proved to be true on Tuesday as the speed of the Elma Eagles forwards produced two golden scoring opportunities the Eagles cashed in on to secure a 2-1 victory over Tenino in Elma.
More importantly, the victory secured no worse than second place for the Eagles with two league games remaining on the schedule.
It was Elma’s speed up front that created its scoring opportunities. Forwards Beta Valentine, Chloe Clark and Aaleigha Weld made the most of their penetrating runs into the Tenino third, often forcing backpedalling Tenino defenders to send the ball out of bounds.
“If we pressure a lot, we get a lot more opportunities and we can make (opposing defenders) nervous,” Valentine said. “We’ll take every chance we can get and use every little mess up they make to our advantage.”
Elma (9-3-1 overall, 5-1 1A Evergreen) got on the board when Valentine was fouled by Tenino midfielder Alivia Hunter just outside the 18-yard box. Elma’s leading goal-scorer stepped up for the free kick and sent a shot toward the upper portion of the Beavers net.
Tenino keeper Trinity Tafoya leaped and got a hand on the ball, but the shot bounded off the underside of the crossbar and across the line for a 1-0 Elma lead in the 36th minute.
“I realized the goal keeper thought I was going to go more toward the right, so I tried to focus on the left side,” Valentine said of what she saw when she took the kick that broke the scoreless tie. “It kind of went toward the middle, but it still went in and I was really happy about it.”
In the second half, Tenino nearly got the equalizer when forward Abby Severse made an open run on a through ball on left side. Elma senior keeper Grace Koonrad bolted off the line and met Severse at the moment of impact to deflect the shot further out.
But Koonrad’s job wasn’t done as she then dove to smother a rebound attempt and keep the game at 1-0 in the 56th minute.
“When warming up, I was making sure I was focused and that I was following the ball with not only my eyes, but my body as well,” said Koonrad, who made a similar stop in the first half. “I was playing to win.”
Three minutes later, another Elma attack deep into Beavers territory produced a golden scoring opportunity.
Weld took possession and was able to get around a Tenino defender and push toward the end line, looking for an angled shot or to send a cross toward oncoming Eagles attackers. Elma’s sophomore forward was fouled from behind on the play and was awarded a penalty kick.
Steady senior midfielder Janessa Sample put Elma up 2-0 when she placed the freebie low and to Tafoy’s right in the 60th minute.
Tenino (9-4, 2-4) turned up the pressure and an Elma defense that held firm for over 65 minutes finally cracked.
A long, bouncing kick turned into a shot attempt for Tenino, which was saved by Koonrad. But the rebound found its way to the foot of Tenino forward Emma Barr, who buried a shot into the back of the net to cut Elma’s lead to 1-0.
With Tenino pushing numbers forward late in the game, Elma — led by consistent ball-winning midfield play of Sample and sophomore Eliza Sibbett —held off the Beavers late charge for the 2-1 victory.
“The grit of the team is what caught my eye tonight. That is what I’m happy about,” Elma head coach Evan Valentine said. “I think that grit and determination is what caused us to draw those fouls and those set pieces where we scored.”
The win secures no worse than a second-place finish and No. 2 district-playoff seed for Elma in the 1A Evergreen League.
With just two league games left on the league schedule, the Eagles sit a game behind Montesano for the top spot in league, with Montesano holding a plus-four goal differential advantage.
The two teams are scheduled to play at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Montesano.
If the Eagles pull off the upset and win, they will earn a share of the league title with Montesano.
If Elma can somehow outscore Montesano by five goals, they’ll earn a share of the league title and No. 1 seed heading into districts.
Coach Valentine said his team is “playing with house money.”
“You’ve got everything to win and nothing to lose,” he said. “If we lose, we’re still in second. So it’s like, just have fun and go for it.”
Elma’s players are also looking forward to their matchup against the state’s second-ranked team according the the latest WIAA RPI rankings.
“I’m just ready for it honestly,” Koonrad said of the upcoming matchup with her team’s East County rivals. “I’m ready to see how we play on their turf and knowing it’s such an important game, I’m excited to see how the team will play.”