Lewis County soccer fans will have two teams to cheer for this week as both Onalaska and Adna are set to take their talents to Sunset Stadium in Sumner for girls soccer state championship weekend.
If both teams win, or lose, on Friday, that’s when allegiances will come into play as the Loggers and Pirates could wind up playing each other for the rights to a trophy, or even a championship. Onalaska is set to take on Davenport at 4 p.m. on Friday, while Adna will play in the early game at 2 p.m. against Mount Vernon Christian.
Onalaska coach Chris VanClifford says that the stiff competition of the C2BL has helped prepare his team for the high stakes environment of the state playoffs.
“The Central 2B is kind of ground zero for 2B schools. I think if you go back through the state records, the Central 2B has had two teams in the top four every single year. So every year, you're playing someone who could be a state champion. Or someone who could be a runner up, or someone who could take third place any day. And then you have to play them twice,” explained VanClifford. “These other teams might be good but they're probably not any scarier than anybody else we’ve faced.”
Onalaska (14-4-1) enters the final weekend of the season seeking to extend a five-game winning streak. After finishing fourth in the Central 2B League this season, the Loggers got hot at the District tournament, upsetting Adna 1-0 in the semifinals and then defeating Toledo 1-0 in the championship game. Last Saturday, Onalaska stayed on a roll when they defeated Friday Harbor 4-2 in the state quarterfinals.
VanClifford says his team was able to survive those close shave matches thanks to the tough lessons they learned early in the season.
“I’m pretty sure the turning point was when we went to Kalama the second to last game in league. We lost 1-0 and during that game, we kind of got some stuff figured out. We kept them on their half the whole first half but they got a breakaway and got a goal. But I think that was the turning point where they knew what they had to do to win those close games,” explained VanClifford.
The Loggers have had a hearty contingent of players step up their performance this season in order to propel the program to their first ever semifinal appearance. VanClifford says that sophomores Joscelin Escalera and Dylan Zigler have put themselves right at the top of that list with their stellar defensive efforts. He added that eighth grader Jaycee Talley has played her way into the defensive rotation after a trial-by-fire adjustment period at the beginning of the season. Midfielder Autumn Russ, a senior, is another player who has taken her game to the next level this season by improving on a litany of intangibles.
“It’s just her understanding of the game. The little things,” noted VanClifford. “It’s not anything that fans might notice but it makes a huge difference.”
Of course, back in the keeper box, Onalaska has Alex Cleveland-Barrera patrolling the net in order to clean up any offensive attacks that manage to sneak through.
The Loggers offense, meanwhile, has depended upon stalwart players like senior Becca Griel, junior Savanah Gifford, and sophomores like Callie Lawrence, and Cierra (“CC”) Russ.
On Friday, Onalaska will be tasked with taking on the Davenport (14-5) for a chance to reach the championship game. The Gorillas have won their last two games, including a 3-1 defeat of Northwest Christian School in the quarterfinals last week.
“Mostly they’re just a pretty solid team all around but they have a pretty fast midfielder who scores pretty much all their goals. So we’ve been working on dealing with that,” said VanClifford of Davenport. “I think we completely understand how it’s supposed to look, where we’re supposed to be and how it’s supposed to work. It’s just a matter of if we do it better or if she does it better.”
After losing out in the quarterfinals of the state tournament last year, the Loggers came into this season with a lofty set of goals.
“We talked about trying to get to the final four. We thought for sure we could get back to state and then kind of made it a priority to get ourselves past that first round so we could get to championship weekend,” said VanClifford.
Now that they’ve punched their ticket to Sumner, though, VanClifford doesn’t plan on having his team change too much of anything just because the stakes are higher.
“It’s pretty difficult to get teams to do things differently and that’s more likely to cause trouble than to help anything. You can make some little adjustments but when you get comfortable, you’ve just got to do what you do well.”
While Onalaska is making their first semifinal appearance, Adna is sailing into championship weekend like Pirates looking to plunder a familiar port of call. The Pirates have qualified for the state tournament seven years in a row and have been perennial contestants in the third place game, with a bronze finish to their credit last year.
Adna (15-3-1) swept through the C2BL for a league title before falling to Onalaska at the district tournament. They rebounded for a late 2-1 comeback victory over Kalama to qualify for state again and then defeated Liberty Bell 3-0 on the road in the quarterfinals last week.
Adna coach Juli Aselton says that trip was valuable beyond the experience they gained on the field.
“Everybody seems to be in great spirits. It was a great trip to Winthrop. It was a really good bonding experience,” said Aselton. “We haven’t really had the opportunity to spend the night together until last week. Sometimes a trip like that helps everything to really bond together.”
One part of playing a far away game on the east side of the state that Aselton didn’t enjoy was the dearth of blue and gold clad fans in the stands. The Pirates’ coach touted the dependability of their supporters and hopes that those fans will be able to rely on past experience to find their way to Sunset Stadium this week.
This season, Adna worked diligently in order to be prepared for the big stage as they attempt to make it to the championship game after six straight losses in the semifinals.
“We started the season out this year wanting to expand the depth in our team so we decided that we’d work more on our range of motion and our ability to shoot from different angles. So right off the bat we worked on that because sometimes when we get to the semifinals everyone knows who our players are and where they are going to be. This year, we wanted to have more options,” explained Aselton. “I think right now, the last couple of weeks, we’re definitely hitting our stride.”
Payton Aselton, a senior, again led the Pirates’ attack this year, garnering C2BL offensive MVP honors for her efforts. As per Adna’s game plan, Cierra Swenson, another senior, and Zarine Walker have also been formidable scoring threats this season.
“Cierra Swenson has had some great help with the shooting and scoring and assists this year. Payton has been helping with the same thing. Zarine Walker, who’s a sophomore, she’s left-footed and she’s been scoring goals for us,” said Coach Aselton, who added Summer White and Presley Smith to the list offensive options on the team. “They really want to work together with the older girls to make things happen. There’s been a lot of collaboration. And we’ve got some defenders who make runs down the field, like Jordyn Swenson.”
On the defensive end, the Pirates are anchored by Brynn Arrington, a senior who came away with C2BL defensive MVP honors this season. Makaela Meister, another senior, has again proven to be a dependable last wall of defense back in the keeper box.
With so many seniors on the roster, Coach Aselton said it’s hard to pinpoint what’s different about this team compared to previous incarnations.
“That’s a tough question because it doesn’t really differ a whole lot. We have a lot of the same girls and every year the girls are passionate. Every year, the girls want to work hard, we just haven’t made that next level leap,” explained Aselton.
If anything feels different, Aselton says it has to do with the energy and expectations surrounding her team following their fight to attain the final spot to state out of the district tournament.
“Usually everyone wants to beat us and this year, we want to beat everyone else coming from that third place seed,” added Aselton.
One other aspect that’s different this season is that it’s not only the seniors who are staring down the final weekend of their prep careers. Coach Aselton is also planning on stepping away from the program at season’s end after a successful run at the helm.
“I told the girls about midseason. We had a chat with the girls. I went ahead and let them know that this was going to be our last season. So one of the things that we've been talking about during the games is it’s not only a good group of seniors’ last games but it’s my last games too. The girls have been really keying in on that which is really sweet of them,” explained Aselton. “I wanted to tell the girls before the playoffs so that everyone would know that it doesn't have anything to do with whether we make it or don’t make it or how many games we win.”
Turning her attention back to the Pirates’ foe on Friday, Aselton says she’s learned about as much as possible about Mount Vernon Christian. Which is to say, not a lot, other than the 1B school swept their league and will enter their semifinal contest holding a sterling record of 16-1-1.
“We don’t know a whole lot about them. We got some film from our friends at Toledo which is super nice of them,” Aselton said. “It’s kind of like how we talked about going into Liberty Bell. You know, we can scout a team but it seems like things change every game.”
Instead, Aselton and company are focusing on themselves and finishing their run in a manner befitting of their long running success.
“Healthwise we’re doing pretty good. I said that before the Onalaska game and then we ended up with a broken ankle but realistically for this time of year, we’re doing pretty good,” said Aselton. “A lot of it is just mental. The girls are coming out and having a great time at practice. I can’t control that, I’m just happy to see them coming out and having fun at practice.”
Friday’s winners will play at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Sunset Stadium in Sumner for the state 1B/2B girls soccer championship. The teams that lose on Friday will play at 10 a.m. on Saturday to determine third place.