It took Rock Springs 11 years to win a Class 4A West Regional.
Last year’s special squad came in as the No. 3 seed and topped both Riverton and Kelly Walsh 3-0 before upsetting top seed Natrona in the championship match to win the regional.
This year’s team ran through Evanston before taking down Sweetwater County rival Green River to reach Saturday’s championship game at the Tom Staffileno Activity Complex against a new foe. Champion met reigning champion in a match that meant more than just state seeding.
The Tigers wanted to prove they could do it with the future of the West Conference. And what it proved was that all of Class 4A needs to prepare for the next four years.
Freshman defender Rylee Berry directed in a corner with her left foot from freshman Annika Syvrud in the 60th minute and the Tigers held on to win their second consecutive regional championship, this one over reigning back-to-back Class 3A champion Jackson, in a tight 1-0 match.
“We have six girls on our roster that are freshmen,” Rock Springs coach Stephen Pyer said. “They’re used to winning, they’re used to big tournaments. They’re all-around just a good group of girls.”
One of those freshman, who uncharacteristically was kept off the score sheet Saturday, is goal-scorer extraordinaire Alyssa Bedard.
Bedard scored twice in the win over Green River for her second and third of the tournament, to move her season total to 16 goals. Her reputation forced Jackson to mark her at all times on the field, creating openings for her teammates.
The youthful energy of the Tigers waned through an even first half but was reignited with Berry’s go-ahead goal and their head coach’s reaction.
“He pumps, just knowing him personally,” Berry said of Pyer. “My whole team pumps me up as well through him, it all starts with him.”
What brought the Tigers all together was one of their more seasoned leaders, junior goalkeeper Alyssa Vigil. The veteran had 80 saves coming into regionals and made even more impressive stops off her line to catch crosses whenever Jackson utilized its speed.
Her hopes of playing college soccer improved with a clean sheet against the Broncs.
“My defenders helped me a lot,” she said. “My coaches have been helping me with position so I’ve just been trying to use what they teach me in the game.”
The long wait for a regional championship ended last year and a new streak extended on Saturday. With players like Bedard, Berry and Syvrudin, that streak may only be in its infancy.
Even though the Tigers topped revered East Conference opponents Cheyenne Central and Cheyenne East to start the season, they know that they can make an even bigger name for themselves if they do it at next week’s state tournament.
“Second year in a row winning the conference, it feels good,” Pyer said. “Now we just need to show that we can compete on the other side of the state too.”
Kelly Walsh 6, Green River 0
Less than 18 hours after Kelly Walsh lost a heartbreaker in a six-round shootout against Jackson, the Trojans were forced to play another 80 minutes in the consolation match.
“We were still the No. 1 seed coming in and we still want to play with pride,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jerry Realing said after the loss to Jackson. “We don’t just give up everything that we’ve done just because we’re facing adversity.”
The Trojans exercised their frustrations on Green River, winning by their biggest margin since the 7-1 win over the Wolves on April 4.
Ashley Sanchez opened the scoring in the 24th minute before Brooke Johnson and Nicole Klungness both scored in the 40th. Klungness scored her second and both Bailey Neff and Sara Lamb completed the scoring.
The first round matches for the 2017 Wyoming High School Class 4A Girls Soccer Championships are: 1W Rock Springs vs. 4E Laramie; 2W Jackson vs. 3E Gillette; 3W Kelly Walsh vs. 2E Cheyenne East; 4W Green River vs. 1E Cheyenne Central.