With a victory over highly-ranked University Prep in the 1A State quarterfinal-round, Montesano advanced to its third-consecutive state semifinal, cementing itself as one of the top programs in the state.
While the Bulldogs have failed to advance to the final in each of the past two seasons, this year could be different as Montesano has some key advantages going into the state Final Four.
“We’re the only ones that played all three of them,” Montesano head coach Fidel Sanchez said of the Final Four field.
Montesano is scheduled to face second-seeded Seattle Academy at 5 p.m. on Friday at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
The Bulldogs (14-5-2 overall) squared off against the Cardinals back on Sept. 9. The game was officially recorded as a 1-1 draw though the two teams decided to play to its conclusion where Montesano unofficially won on a penalty-kick shootout after two of three referees decided to call it a day.
Seattle Academy (16-2-2) had been mowing through its competition since its last loss, a 4-3 defeat to Cedar Park Christian on Oct. 3.
To advance to the semifinals, Seattle Academy easily dispatched of No. 10 Bear Creek 5-1 to win its fifth-straight game.
The Cardinals are 10-0-1 in its last 11 games, outscoring its opponents 49-9 in that span.
Though the familiarity with the Cardinals – facing them twice in the past two seasons – should help reduce any potential anxieties of playing one of the state’s top teams on the big stage, the Bulldogs have a monumental task in front of them if they are to reach the final.
”Seattle Academy right now is rolling. They’re beating everybody in the postseason,” Sanchez said. “They are going to be another tough opponent for us. But it’s the final four and they are here for a reason.”
The other state semifinal features No. 5 La Center against top seed and defending state-champion Klahowya, two teams Monte lost to this season.
Montesano has looked overmatched in its previous two trips to the state final rounds, losing all four games it has played in the semis and state third/fourth-place game combined.
A glaring factor in that equation is Montesano is chock-full of talented athletes – including several members of last season’s state-champion softball team – but not necessarily the hyper-focused soccer players featured on the rosters of its state-playoff opponents.
“Keep in mind that we don’t have many club players. We have one club player – Mikayla Stanfield – outside of that we don’t have the club players that these other teams have,” Sanchez said. “Seattle Academy is flooded with club players, so is Klahowya. All those girls play with the best clubs in Tacoma and Seattle, and that is the remarkable thing about our program. We’ve been doing it without girls that have been going to club to play. We have players that are three-sport athletes.”
To help balance the playing field, Montesano played the toughest schedule in the 1A class this season, facing the likes of Klahowya, Cedar Park Christian, Cashmere, University Prep, Seattle Academy, La Center and Elma – all top 10-ranked teams at the time – to lead the state’s top 15 RPI teams with a .5812 opponent winning percentage.
Montesano is also back healthy, with Stanfield – an all-state forward and future Gonzaga Bulldog – and key defensive midfielder Addi Kersker returning to the lineup at the start of the district tournament after missing eight games due to injury.
Their play has been integral as the two combined for a game-winning goal in a district-semifinal win over Seton Catholic and figured into a 2-0 upset over No. 3 University Prep in Saturday’s state quarterfinal.
“We we are full strength, that’s when we’ve been playing our best soccer. Even without (Stanfield and Kersker) we were playing pretty good soccer,” Sanchez said. “We have players that can play multiple positions and that helps us a lot. Now, having Mikayla and Addi K. back on the field, it makes us even stronger.”
Sanchez said he likes the “underdog” role and expects his team will compete hard this weekend.
“I love that we are the underdogs. We’ve been the underdogs every single year we go to state because we play a private school,” he said. “We’re here to win, we’re here to compete. Our girls do the best that they can and they represent our community well and they are not afraid to go against the big programs.”