Through 400 minutes of girls soccer at Cheney Alumni Field on Friday, the Class 4A Girls West Regional Championship will, as most predicted, come down to the unbeaten and the only established contender left standing.
Rock Springs improved to 17-0 with a lopsided 8-0 win over Star Valley and Kelly Walsh held off Jackson for a 3-1 win in the semifinals, setting the stage for the third meeting between the mighty Tigers and the only team that’s been able to score against them.
“It’s the kind of set-up game we want,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jerry Realing said. “Win or lose, it’s the best game we could have going into state.”
The Trojans’ did their part on Friday morning, holding the run of play throughout the match. Repeated runs and building attacks were stifled by the dropping Jackson defense that was quick to block shots with its back line.
The Broncs played with the same motivation they used to rally from two separate deficits on Thursday and stayed even with the No. 2 Trojans, who outscored Jackson 7-1 in two regular-season wins.
“We were doing the right thing but so were they, their defense played great today,” Realing said. “And we knew if they kept playing the kind of defense that they were with seven or eight people then we were going to keep knocking on the door and eventually the door was going to open.”
The Trojans stayed patient through the break and finally got out in front in the 47th minute. A quick counter finished with Melicia MacIntyre running through the middle and finding Nicole Klungness off to the side of the box. The leading scorer in Kelly Walsh history then ripped a shot that beat the goalkeeper far post.
Klungness added another goal 7 minutes later to up her total to four in two matches at regionals. Jackson was called for a handball in the box on an attempted Trojan cross and the senior forward calmly beat the keeper on the ensuing penalty.
“It was definitely a relief,” Klungness said. “We were working with a lot of pressure in the first half, we just couldn’t get a shot to go in.”
Senior Ashley Sanchez upped the Trojans’ lead to 3-0 in the 61st minute, putting the Trojans squarely in front.
Kelly Walsh continued to control the match until Jackson gained traction in the final 15 minutes. The Broncs recaptured the energy that sparked a two-goal comeback the day before and pulled one goal back thanks to a high strike from senior Lucy Hutchinson. That proved to be Jackson’s last gasp.
“The last two years we’ve been knocked out by Jackson,” Realing said. “That’s a testament to the Jackson players, they get better every time they step on the field, they certainly did today, but so did the Kelly Walsh players. We feel really good about it. It’s kind of exorcising a demon, if you will.”
The next demon comes in the form of Rock Springs, which took care of Star Valley in the afternoon. Junior standout Alyssa Bedard scored two goals immediately to put the Tigers up 2-0 in the first 8 minutes. Sophomore Lauren Profaizer headed another 5 minutes later to firmly establish dominance.
Star Valley nearly pulled a goal back after Profaizer’s goal only for a misplay by Tigers goalkeeper Alex Moeller to be alleviated by Rylee Berry clearing a shot off the line.
Moeller then had an even scarier moment when she came out of the box to play a forward ball and received a knee to the hip in the collision. She subbed out and didn’t return but she is expected to be back in net Saturday.
Karli Nelson added two more goals and Brecken Hunsaker, Novaleigh Moses and Kia Comstock all added another goal each to round out the scoring for the Tigers, who scored their four second-half goals in a 12-minute span.
“Overall, we’re the dominant team now and we come to play no matter who we’re playing,” head coach Stephen Pyer said. “No matter if it’s the first round at state or the first round at regionals.
That comfortable margin gave the Tigers time to think about the daunting task of beating Kelly Walsh a third time.
“Kelly Walsh scares me,” Pyer said. “They’re a good team. It’s very hard for a team to beat another team three times that’s equally as good and has just as much talent.”
Pyer stated the Tigers hope to push the pace and control the tempo, just as they have all season. Kelly Walsh, on the other hand, will try to accomplish what no one else has.
“We’re going to go out there, play for each other,” Klungness said, “and it will be fun.”