Soccer is known by those who enjoy it as "The Beautiful Game."

It's a test of patience and method, and it can be as unforgiving as it is poetic.

There was possibly no better example of all those traits than last weekend's Class 4A West Regional Tournament that played out over three days at Tom Staffileno Activity Complex.

You could physically feel a shift in the air as the Kelly Walsh girls turned a 2-0 deficit into a tie game within a span of 2 minutes against Jackson. That momentum and joy on the Kelly Walsh sideline became heartache when Jackson finally won in the shootout's sixth round.

The Natrona boys suffered the same fate after twice taking the lead only to have Green River equalized both times, once in the second half and once in overtime.

Patrick Marchal made two big saves for the Wolves and Natrona's Tanner Conley was dealt with a round of bad luck when one of his saves was cancelled because wind rolled the ball before it was kicked. The re-shot went past Conley and the rest was history.

Despite what was a frustrating season for the Natrona girls, they still clawed at Jackson until a second-half goal put the Fillies away.

Both Evanston teams were eliminated in the first round, keeping the boys in search of their first state tournament berth in program history.

On the flip side, both Rock Springs teams completed their impressive conference seasons with West Regional championships. It was the second consecutive time the girls won the top seed at state while Saturday marked the first time in school history that the boys won the West.

Fans that traveled hours and stayed in hotels for days had their visit to Casper rewarded with trophies and medals.

Some teams played three matches in three days and watching all of them was nearly as exhausting as playing them. The temperatures were never severe, but the sun on the turf did test endurance and focus.

The adversity, elements, sunken shoulders and celebratory photos all equally demonstrated the beauty of the sport.

Somehow that round ball can curl and dance in unthinkable ways. Even a simple first touch is never so simple and the greatest bit of skill can still be offset by the "unlucky."

It's a beautiful game that is as cruel as it is rewarding.

On the sidelines your heart breaks slightly for Rylie Garner and Taylor Bright, two players who were kept off the field for Natrona and Kelly Walsh because of injury. The only consolation is that Garner was able to play most of the season before her freak injury while Bright never got to see the field.

Most of the Jackson girls midfield, as well as Kelly Walsh's Brooke Johnson and Nicole Klungness, healed fast enough from minor tweaks to return for the season's penultimate weekend.

It was also an emotional weekend that sent some people past their boiling points.

Cards were shown, especially in the last two days, for reasons ranging from a tactical foul to dissent out of pure frustration.

It would be difficult not to understand why some tempers flared as the physicality of the sport reached new heights with the importance of each match and the slightest mistake was sometimes the difference between goals scored and allowed.

When this soccer season began with the Casper Jamboree I tried to watch as many matches as I could. During that opening weekend I was told about the historic dominance of the East Conference in Class 4A soccer.

Over the course of the season I watched the Laramie, Gillette and Cheyenne Central girls. All three of them were impressive in the non-conference while still losing to each other during the conference season.

But the beauty of the sport is that the ball can roll in some strange directions.

There is luck, there is unlucky, but through 80 minutes and sometimes 100, there is no lucky match. The outcome is based solely on the effort and determination of each team.

There's only one weekend left, the biggest one of the year. For three more days there will be champions crowned and hearts broken.

Everyone wants to win the championship but only one team can.

Months of preparation and regular season matches have brought teams through upsets and losses past the regional tournaments.

It's the last chance for 4A West Conference teams to take their stand against the East. It's an opportunity for the Jackson girls to prove they belong with the best of 4A. The Lady Outlaws of Rawlins, can continue their Cinderella run and not stop at just the first state tournament berth in program history.

No matter what happens before the whistle or who is seeded higher, everything can change in 80 minutes.

And that's the beauty of it.

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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