Both the Rock Springs and Kelly Walsh girls got some of what they wanted out of Saturday’s Class 4A West Regional Soccer Championship at Cheney Alumni Field going into next week’s state tournament.
Kelly Walsh wanted to show intensity and an unrivaled passion going into yet another state tournament. Rock Springs wanted to win a fourth straight regional title.
Junior Alyssa Bedard netted a quick go-ahead goal and added a late assist to help the Tigers stay undefeated and hold off their biggest challenger for a third time this season with a 2-1 victory.
“This feels amazing, it’s exactly what we wanted going into state,” Bedard said. “We’re feeling good and we’re excited.”
Bedard’s breakaway in the first minute gave the Tigers added confidence and forced the Trojans to play from behind immediately. All it took was a few passes in the midfield before Lilliana Hernandez sent a long through pass down the spine of the defense. Bedard ran onto it in the box and took just one touch before sliding the ball under Kelly Walsh goalkeeper Alyssa DePoorter.
“I think it was the most important part of our game, coming out strong,” Bedard said. “They came out strong the first time we played them. We knew they were going to come out strong so we had to to.”
The following 50 minutes brought only missed opportunities. Kelly Walsh’s Nicole Klungness sent a free kick from 30 yards out on the right hash mark that bounced off the far post. No Trojan was able to redirect it in and Rock Springs cleared away the danger. Bedard had a chance to double the Tigers’ lead when she stepped to the penalty spot after the Trojans were called for a handball on an attempted clearance. DePoorter guessed the correct way, however, and turned away the prolific scorer. That came before another Klungness free kick went across the face of goal without a teammate connecting.
“The second-half team that came out against Rock Springs was night and day different than the first-half team,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jerry Realing said. “There was fight there. There was passion. There was shoulders and elbows. It was great. It was exactly what we want heading into state.”
Out of halftime came a breakaway for Kelly Walsh sophomore Melicia McIntyre, whose shot went directly into the grasp of goalkeeper Alex Moeller.
Senior Noelle Vigneri finally drew the Trojans level with her redirection on a ball into the box. That ball sailed past an encroaching Moeller and found Vignieri to the far post in the 51st minute for just the third goal the Tigers conceded all year.
Rock Springs went back in front after 14 minutes of pressure. Bedard sent a floating pass ahead into the box from 30 yards out on the right wing and freshman Emily Taucher flicked the ball into the back of the net. Taucher and the junior captain immediately ran at each other and hugged, having delivered another blow to the West’s No. 2 team.
“They pinched on my side and I glanced up to Emily, who was running far post,” Bedard said. “I knew if I could get it curved around the defenders and placed at her feet it would be perfect.”
None of Kelly Walsh’s desperation attempts the rest of the way troubled Moeller, and the Trojans accepted their third loss to Rock Springs. The Trojans did take solace, however, in knowing they had once again tested the state’s only undefeated girls’ team.
“We want to get better every time we step on the field and we did today,” Realing said. “Today was the intensity. It was looking for opportunities. And they don’t come often against Rock Springs.”
Jackson 2, Star Valley 0
The Broncs continued their momentum from the last 15 minutes of Friday’s semifinal loss to Kelly Walsh to endure the early Saturday elements and defeat the Braves in the third-place match.
Sophomore Melissa Kussy put Jackson ahead in the 19th minute with a left-footed shot from 16 yards out. That came just before the rain intensified and the two sides struggled to maintain possession for the remaining 20 minutes of the first half. The two teams took shelter during halftime, when the falling rain morphed into snow and cooled the already near-frigid temperatures.
Jackson came out of the second half with the better chances, not allowing Star Valley to build its offense. Then came a goal from Lucy Hutchinson, assisted by Kussy, in the 68th minute that effectively put the game out of reach.
That win clinched the third seed for the Broncs, who missed the state tournament last season. Star Valley’s loss relegated the Braves to the fourth seed.