All girls’ tickets have been punched from the Class 4A West Regional. Two relative newcomers and a recent 4A West staple advanced with victories on Thursday at Cheney Alumni Field.
Kelly Walsh netted two early goals before the elements started affecting play and saw through a 3-0 win over winless Evanston to clinch a spot in the state tournament and eliminate the last-place Red Devils.
Senior Noelle Vigneri put the Trojans in front early and Evanston couldn’t muster a chance on net the rest of the way. Senior Nicole Klungness then added two goals, the first of which came on a corner kick that curved into the far corner of the net and the second coming on a second-half penalty kick, to put the game out of reach.
That lopsided win helped the Trojans advance to their eighth consecutive state tournament. They’ll play Jackson on Friday in the 10 a.m. opener. That could pose a problem for the Broncs, who may be riding high after a dramatic win on Thursday.
First-year Jackson head coach Kristen Pizarro couldn’t bring herself to watch the Broncs take a potentially game-tying penalty kick in the final 9 minutes. She knelt to the ground and kept her head low, waiting to hear the team’s reaction.
Freshman Jacie Chatham calmly netted the equalizer, bringing Jackson level for the second time on Thursday afternoon. Four minutes later fellow freshman Hannah Freeze netted the winner to give the young Broncs their ticket to state in a 3-2 win over Green River.
“We put so much work into the season,” Freeze said, “and to finally come out, after fighting so hard the entire game, feels so good.”
Fittingly enough, it was the two freshmen that provided Jackson the late uptick. Green River went in front during the sleet-dominant first half with a goal near the midway point. Jackson equalized early in the second half only for Green River to pull ahead in the final 15 minutes. That set the stage for the Broncs’ comeback.
“It is a lot of poise and a lot to ask for from a really young team,” Pizarro said. “All season we’d play a team tough and then they’d score and the flood gates would open. I was really proud to watch the kids fight back for the full 80 minutes and then, obviously, come out on top with a win.”
Jackson starts one senior, who is not standout returner Annabel Hagen, as she remains out with a knee injury she sustained last summer. That’s shaped the Broncs’ roster different than the one that ruled over Class 3A for years and helped them qualify in 4A the two previous years.
That’s helped make achieving Pizarro’s pre-season goal of making the state tournament on the Broncs’ home field all the sweeter.
“When you play in games like this it’s about can we fight, can we come together as a team, can we do what it takes to win?” Pizarro said. “So today proved a lot.”
Just like Jackson made its smooth transition to 4A two years ago, Star Valley completed its ascent on 4A on Thursday. The Braves scored a soggy 1-0 win over the hosting Natrona County Fillies to clinch a state tournament berth in the program’s first year of 4A competition.
A quick one-time shot from Katie Robinson in the 19th minute proved the difference. She received a pass from the right forward and sent a hard shot at goalkeeper Hannah Trumbull. The Fillies’ defensive rock got to the ball, only for it to slide away between wet gloves. She scooped the ball away after that but the linesman ruled the ball had crossed the line. That goal went on to stand for the remaining hour.
“She didn’t take a prep touch, she ripped it,” Star Valley head coach Sinclair Buckstaff said. “I think that caught the keeper off guard and it trickled away and over the line.”
For Buckstaff, it was almost fitting that the match went down to the wire like that. The two sides drew 1-1 previously at Cheney Alumni Field and Star Valley came away the 1-0 winner in Afton previously.
“There’s a hair’s breadth difference between the two teams,” Buckstaff said.
Thursday night proved that, with just a matter of inches ultimately eliminating the Fillies.
For their troubles, Star Valley now advances to play regular-season champion and remaining undefeated Rock Springs. That match will kick off at 2 p.m.