BATTLE GROUND – The regular season and consequently the postseason didn’t go as the Ridgefield girls soccer team expected.
After finishing third in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, the Spudders had to fight through the district playoffs on the road.
But the road led to a district championship on Thursday when Claire Jones scored in the 30th minute and the backline defense led by Ava Kruckenberg and Elizabeth Farley made it stand up for a 1-0 win over Hockinson.
“It means a lot to us because I feel like we’re peaking at the right moment this season,” said Farley, a senior co-captain. “We obviously had our rough patches with a couple of losses and obviously getting third. We were on kind of an uphill battle going into playoffs. But we were able to persevere and win the title and it feels really good.”
After Hockinson had the Spudders on their heels for a few minutes to open the match, Ridgefield regrouped to bring pressure the rest of the first half.
In the 30th minute, freshman Baylee Bushnell brought the ball up the right side, centered the ball back to Ellie Petersen, who fired it into Jones. Jones controlled the ball, turned and shot the ball past Hockinson goalkeeper Amanda Jeschke for a 1-0 lead.
“The first goal is always really huge for us,” Farley said. “We always talk about trying to score as early as possible. And obviously (scoring) in the last 10 minutes of the first half isn’t ideal. But getting that first goal in the first half is really big for us.”
Because then it puts the game on the Spudders’ defense, which has played very well of late despite suffering more key injuries.
Coach Jeff Lukowiak put forward Kruckenberg and midfielder Farley on the back line to shore up the Spudders’ defense.
“I took one of our best forwards and probably our fastest player on the field and moved her to the back,” Lukowiak said. “We lost both of our backs to injury the last two games. We brought a JV player up to play back, and we took a forward and put her back. It was just amazing that they were able to play the way they were.”
The Spudders now head to the 2A state tournament having won their last eight, including six on the road. Ridgefield should be home next Tuesday or Wednesday to host a first-round match.
“I think we’re in a good mindset and we’re ready to play,” senior co-caption Paytn Barnett said. “And honestly we just started to have fun and work as a team. So I think everyone is just ready to play and excited for a challenge.”
State play will be something new for the Spudders, considering they have not played a team from outside of Southwest Washington in two years.
“The last state champion was Columbia River and Hockinson last season didn’t give up a goal,” Lukowiak said. “We’ve just played probably two of the toughest teams we’re going to see.”
No matter their next opponent, the Spudders are just happy to be going back to state.
“Honestly it’s super exciting,” Barnette said. “I mean last year, we all had fun. But it was hard not having an end goal. So I think all of us are really excited to get to farther this year.”