La Center girls fall to Seattle Academy in soccer playoffs

Successful season comes to an end for girls soccer team

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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KALAMA — The La Center girls soccer program made a little history Tuesday night, but not enough to advance in the Class 1A state playoffs.

Seattle Academy, the defending state champion, scored two second-half goals to break a 1-all tie, topping the Wildcats 3-1 at Kalama High School in the opening round of the tournament.

La Center's season ends with an 18-2 record.

This was the second time in five state appearances that La Center has scored, and the first time the Wildcats had tied a state match after trailing.

"I'm so thrilled with how hard my girls worked tonight," La Center coach Maria Cheeseman said. "I couldn't be more thrilled."

La Center has now made state two years in a row and three times in the past four years. However, the Wildcats are 0-5 in all-time appearances and had lost by a combined score of 13-0 the previous two appearances.

On Tuesday night, they showed they belonged on the same field with the elite.

Seattle Academy's Julia Shankland struck first with a goal 24 minutes into the match.

But just three minutes later, the Wildcats had drawn even. Brynne Dykes' long pass turned into a race between La Center's Katlyn Bigley and a Seattle defender. Bigley beat her opponent to the ball, then pushed a shot past the keeper into the net.

"It was an amazing feeling, being a sophomore and being able to do that," Bigley said. "It pumped us up."

Seattle Academy, though, ruled the second half with scoring opportunities.

La Center was up to the challenge early in the half. Keeper Shelby Vermeulen made a couple of big saves to keep the match tied.

In the 48th minute, Vermeulen stopped an initial shot on a Seattle breakaway but did not control the ball. The Cardinals got another foot on the ball, but La Center defender Ashley Denny hustled toward the goal line and kicked the ball away about a yard from crossing into the net, preserving the 1-all tie.

"We've never really been in a game at state," Denny said. "Playing against the champs from last year was crazy awesome."

The play brought cheers from the La Center fans.

However, a minute later, Seattle Academy was on the attack again.

This time, the Cardinals were not to be denied. With Alexa Strabuk's individual skills with the ball on display, she beat her defender in the corner, then made a sweet pass to Lillie Atkins for the goal and a 2-1 lead.

"I just had to pick it up," Strabuk said. "Senior year. Leader. I'm a captain. Let's get it done."

Some 13 minutes later, Seattle Academy scored again, this time on a goal from Sophia Barsher.

La Center only had a couple of offensive pushes in the second half against the solid Seattle defense.

"We tried. We never gave up," Bigley said.

Still, the Wildcats were left to say goodbye to the season, and celebrate their accomplishments.

The Wildcats won the Trico League title and the district championship, along with those 18 wins in 20 matches.

"It's phenomenal for 16 girls to be that consistent," Cheeseman said.