The Elma Eagles are now just one win away from a berth in the state playoffs.
Led by a Chloe Clark to Beta Valentine goal and a key save by senior goalkeeper Grace Koonrad in the game’s final moments, Elma advanced in the 1A District 4 Tournament with a 1-0 victory over Seton Catholic on Tuesday in Montesano.
Elma (11-5-1 overall) wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, and as they have done throughout the season, the Eagles’ speed made the difference.
Eagles midfielder/forward Chloe Clark took a ball sent forward down the left wing ahead of her defender. The senior speedster then sent a nicely-placed cross to the foot of freshman forward Beta Valentine, who struck a high, hard shot past Cougars keeper Gianna Redman for a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute.
“I knew Beta was going to be running right beside me, so I just laid an easy pass and she did a really good job of getting off her defender and getting a shot,” Clark said of the goal. “I’m really proud of her.”
The goal went a long way to calming the early-game jitters, particularly for a young team, such as Elma.
“That goal definitely helped us relax, settle into the game and know that we can do it,” Koonrad said. “Immediately, over half my nerves were gone. … It just showed the underclassman that even though it’s districts, we can easily do it. It’s our game.”
Throughout the remainder of the first half, Elma controlled the pitch largely by playing on the Seton Catholic half of the field for the majority of the first 40 minutes, while not allowing any dangerous Seton Catholic scoring chances.
But Elma — a young team that has scored four or more goals eight times this season — struggled to add to its lead, controlling possession but coming up fruitless as what shots did get through to goal were handled by Redman or off-target.
Leading 1-0 at the half, Elma head coach Evan Valentine moved some chess pieces around in an effort to get more shots and scoring chances through the Cougars net.
The Eagles nearly doubled their lead on several occasions in the second half.
Sophomore forward Aaleigha Weld’s chip shot over Redman on another dangerous Elma counter-attack went just wide of the post in the 67th minute.
Another Clark-to-Valentine connection sailed over the crossbar in the 72nd minute, followed by a Valentine shot that rocketed over the net in stoppage time.
“We made some changes at half, they worked in theory but we just need to finish the chances when we get them,” Elma head coach Evan Valentine said.
Late in the game and pushing numbers up for the equalizing goal, Seton Catholic finally started to get some offensive opportunities against a stingy Eagles defense.
The Cougars (5-9-1) had a chance on back-to-back corner kicks in the 60th minute that preceded a high, bouncing ball through the Elma penalty area that rolled out of bounds in the 63rd minute.
But the Cougars most dangerous scoring chance of the night came on what turned out to be the final play of the match.
Elma was called for a foul approximately 25 yards out from the Eagles net, giving Seton Catholic a direct free kick from the far-side hash mark.
Seton Catholic midfielder Maria Apostolou took the direct free kick and sent a hard shot that skipped off a leaping Elma midfielder Janessa Sample’s hip, and then skipped toward the far post.
But Koonrad read the play perfectly, diving to her right to make a clean save, preventing any rebound attempt.
A few seconds later, the whistle blew and the Eagles were on their way to the district semifinal round.
“On that last play, I’m watching Janessa and I’m like, ‘Oh, she’s right in front of the ball and she’s going to stop it,’” Koonrad said of what she saw on the final play. “When I saw (the ball get through), I thought, ‘Oh my God Grace, this is you, this is you. … That’s your shot and that would be the winning goal unless you are there.’”
The win puts Elma in position to secure a spot in the state tournament with a win over La Center in a district-semifinal game a 6 p.m. Thursday at La Center High School.
If Elma falls to the Wildcats, it still has a chance to earn a state berth with a win in the district third-place game on Saturday.
One more win would be quite an accomplishment for the Eagles program.
“For a team like this — just the difference from last year to this year — and for this young of a team to have a chance to go to state, it’s just such an amazing opportunity and I think they are excited for it,” Coach Valentine said.
“It would be huge,” said Clark, who has not been on a state-tournament bound team in her four years as an Eagle. “It’s our last chance and I think us four seniors have a really good young team behind us that wants to experience it for us and for themselves too.”
“It honestly means a lot to me,” Koonrad said. “It makes me really proud. This is my senior year and my team gave everything for us (seniors). I’m glad we have two shots (at a state berth). This is going to be our year.”
Tenino beats King’s Way Christian, will face Montesano on Thursday
The Montesano Bulldogs will face a familiar foe in its district semifinal matchup when they take on the Tenino Beavers in girls soccer at 7 p.m. Thursday in Montesano.
The Beavers defeated King’s Way Christian 1-0 on Tuesday to secure a spot in the semifinal against Montesano, which earned a first-round bye as the 1A Evergreen League’s No. 1 seed.
The Bulldogs (14-1) have defeated the Beavers (13-4) four out of their past five meetings, including a 3-0 win in last seasons’ district-championship game.
Centralia 3, Aberdeen 1
Aberdeen’s rally from down two sets fell short in a 25-13, 25-23, 20-25 and 25-18 loss to Centralia on Tuesday at Sam Benn Gym in Aberdeen.
Aberdeen (2-14 overall, 0-12 2A Evergreen), a team that has been playing a more competitive brand of volleyball over its past few games, started slow but began to gain momentum in a narrow 25-23 second-set loss.
“Tough defense and hard, consistent serves kept us in the game,” Aberdeen head coach Desiree Glanz said. “Feeding off the energy from the second set helped us take the third set. I’m proud of this young team and their effort tonight.”
Lilly Camp led the Bobcats with 14 kills, four blocks and an ace.
Emmersyn Yakovich (11 digs, 2 aces), Savannah Strickland (9 kills), Cameryn Micheau (21 digs, 20 assists), Claire Mottinger (14 digs) and Merryn Bruner (14 digs, 2 kills) also figured prominently in the Aberdeen effort.
Aberdeen closes out the season against Rochester at 7 p.m. Thursday at Rochester High School.