PUYALLUP — There were many days while Columbia River sophomore Marion Lilly was recovering from her third concussion of this year when she fantasized about playing in important soccer games again.
Sophomore Emily Heaton, who isn't known among her Columbia River teammates for offensive weaponry, has wondered how it would feel to score big goals.
Though the backdrop was a cold and rainy day at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, Heaton, Lilly and the Chieftains will only remember Saturday as a radiantly bright moment in their young careers.
Columbia River capped an undefeated season by winning the Washington Class 3A state championship over Mt. Spokane of Mead, 2-1.
Lilly scored in the 25th minute, and after Mt. Spokane's Alyssa Lloyd tied the score at 34:57, Heaton, from 18 yards out, booted in the game-deciding goal just two minutes later.
Columbia River (19-0-2) defended against a flurry of Mt. Spokane headers and corner kicks through the second half to win its second state title in four years — and first under new coach Filomon Afenegus.
"The first part of it was being a new coach and not knowing what type of players I had and just being able to get all of them to mesh together," Afenegus said about the challenge of his first season with the Chieftains. "But because of the type of people that we have on this team — they're great leaders — we were able to mold a winning team."
This season, the players often heard from their coach: "grind regularly, celebrate rarely." Still, Lilly was able to leap and punch the air in celebration after her goal gave the Chieftains a 1-0 lead. Teammate Julia Drury sent the ball ahead to Lilly who, with her left foot, beat Mt. Spokane goalkeeper Shannon McReynolds to the right corner of the net.
"I've been dreaming of this since I got back from my concussion," Lilly said about an injury that happened a month ago. "I've just been waiting to get back in it, and it's just worth it."
The lead was short-lived but when Columbia River needed to break the tie, Afenegus continued sending three forwards ahead against Mt. Spokane's backline. The aggression created scoring opportunities, especially for Heaton near the 37th minute.
"I saw calm and poise and control," Afenegus said about Heaton. "For her to be able to take that touch and shoot it off a second touch was pretty amazing."
Heaton might have portrayed calm and cool but boiled with exhilaration on the inside.
"I couldn't even believe it," she said. "I usually don't score, so it's really exciting."
Columbia River needed the "grind" that Afenegus has spoken of to maintain its lead. Mt. Spokane's five second-half shots kept Chieftain keeper Haley Case on alert and the defense in front of her active.
"I had a heart attack a little bit; they were a very aggressive and strong team and they were a fast team," Heaton said. "Towards the end, I think they really caught us off guard. They pushed so many players up and we were just defending the whole time. It was so stressful."
When Mt. Spokane's final free kick in the waning seconds stopped well short of Case, the stress was over and Columbia River could celebrate a successful end.
"We had to beat a lot of good teams to get to this point," Afenegus said, "but because of the type of players we have, we were able to do it."
COLUMBIA RIVER 2, MT. SPOKANE 1
Columbia River (19-0-2)
Goal — Marion Lilly (Julia Drury), 25th minute; Emily Heaton (unassisted), 36th minute.
Goalkeeper saves — Haley Case 2.
Mt. Spokane (20-1)
Goal — Alyssa Lloyd (corner kick), 34th minute.
Goalkeeper saves — Shannon McReynolds 6.