TACOMA — Veteran soccer coach Horst Malunat has been part of enough state final four runs to understand a harsh reality — not every team can be the one to win.
And for a team like La Center, making its first appearance in the Class 1A girls soccer state semifinals in program history Friday, that is perfectly OK.
The No. 5 seed Wildcats fell to No. 1 Klahowya, the defending 1A state champion, in a 3-0 defeat at Mount Tahoma Stadium, and of course, they were upset by the final result.
But when the dust settles, Malunat, the Wildcats’ first-year head coach, hopes the moment will be a building block for a program aiming to make deep playoff runs a regular occurrence.
“The team has never been here before,” Malunat said. “(Klahowya) is the defending state champ, they’ve been here, done that. When I’ve coached teams, you have to have a tradition of getting here.
“When you get here, you want to win it all, and not everybody does. … It doesn’t mean we’re a bad team and there’s lots of good things that happened. I know they’re upset, but sometimes that intrinsic pain will hopefully turn into some fearless drive tomorrow.”
La Center will face District 4 foe Montesano in Saturday’s third-place match at 1 p.m.
In Friday’s semifinal, Klahowya caught the Wildcats off guard just 51 seconds into the game when Bailey Watland found space in the box and netted a goal off a pinpoint cross delivered by Raven Stoner.
The Eagles then went ahead 2-0 in the 27th minute on a Stoner goal headed in from an Amira Lyons corner kick.
“Against a good team you have to bring your best, and if you make mistakes, you get punished for it,” Malunat said.
The multi-goal deficit put the Wildcats in an unfamiliar spot. Star senior midfielder Shaela Bradley tried to will the Wildcats back, and on several occasions, came close to cutting into the deficit.
Madisen Newbury took a shot on goal in the 38th minute off a pass from Bradley that was saved by Klahowya goalkeeper Ella Bottalico. In the second half, Bradley took a free kick near midfield that appeared to be on line, but sailed inches over the cross bar.
“The whole season, she makes the people around her better. When she needs to, she can score,” Malunat said of the Rutgers signee. “Tonight there were a couple just inches from going in that would’ve (changed) the momentum. The first goal is the confidence (builder), and we just didn’t crack that, we just didn’t get that tonight.”
A goal never came for La Center, which was shut out for only the second time this season. Goalkeeper Sophia Johnson made eight saves against the Eagles’ relentless attack.
Saturday’s third-place match will be a rematch of the 1A District 4 championship game, which La Center won 3-0 over Montesano.
“It’s less than 24 hours rest, this was an emotional down or up and you’ve gotta be prepared to bring out the same intensity as you did tonight, (if not) more if you want third place,” Malunat said.