TACOMA — The Ridgefield Spudders fashion themselves as a relentless team.
So much so, Ridgefield players write the word on their legs and display it for every game.
On Saturday, the Spudders needed every bit of their relentless, gritty identity to capture the Class 2A girls soccer state championship, their first in program history, in a 3-2 win over West Valley.
Twice trailing the No. 1 seed Eagles by one goal in the second half, No. 7 Ridgefield responded with a pair of equalizing goals from Brielle Suomi and Ellie Wilson to send the game to overtime and penalty kicks.
“So much grit was used in this game, and that’s also been our word throughout the end of this season,” Wilson said. “We just out-gritted them tonight. It was our game.”
Ridgefield goalkeeper Gabriela Semlick made two saves in the PK shootout, including the fourth attempt when the senior tipped a shot up that bounced off the cross bar and out.
“I stood up on that line and I was like, there’s a 50-50 (chance) I’m going to get it,” Semlick said. “I’m just going to give it everything I have and if it is, it is. If it isn’t, it isn’t, and that’s OK. I love my team and we worked hard for it.”
With a 2-1 advantage, Ridgefield looked to Ava Kruckenburg for the game-sealing PK. Just like the state quarterfinal game against Fife one week ago, the senior calmly fired a shot in the back of the net and the Spudders stormed the field to embrace her and Semlick. Tori Lasch, Nora Martin and Kruckenburg all converted their kicks.
“The last thing we wanted to do was go to PKs,” Kruckenburg said, “but we have full confidence in our goalkeeper and she did incredible. … Having a goal scored first on us was like, I know my heart dropped, everybody’s heart dropped. It was like time stopped in its place. But we’re so tenacious to get to the end of the goal, because we wanted it so bad.”
Ridgefield’s defense had allowed just five goals all season, but found itself reeling after West Valley (21-1) scored first in the 30th minute on a Genesis Willis free kick that lofted over the Ridgefield defense to Ashlyn Chase for a header.
Facing a 1-0 deficit for more than 25 minutes, the Spudders (20-3) scored an equalizer on a corner kick of their own. Ella Rorabaugh sent the kick to the far post and connected with Brielle Suomi for a header to knot the score at 1-1 in the 57th minute.
“We had a similar thing happen to us against Fife in one of our most recent games — we went down and then immediately responded within, I think, a minute, if not two minutes,” Ridgefield coach Steven Evans said. “Today it was that same mentality of … we’ve been down before, we understand what we need to do to come back and get where we need to be. We tied it twice, which was a fantastic showing of grit from the girls, and it paid off for us.”
Two massive swings in momentum followed.
West Valley’s speedy attack moved down the sideline in the 66th minute and Lauren Matthew sent a cross into the box, where Kyia Silva put through a goal.
But the Spudders had another answer with the clock dwindling down to five minutes plus stoppage time. From a free kick, Madison Ruddy sent a pass into a crowded area in front of goal. Off a West Valley deflection, Wilson fired a left-footed shot into the top left corner of the net, knotting the game at 2-2 to force overtime.
“My girls, the whole season, all we wanted was this goal,” said Semlick, who started the second half in goal following Tyler Merlock in the first half. “When we got down, we did everything we could to get that first goal. The second time we got down, it was everything we could give. You see girls flying through the air, crashing. A lot of our girls got hurt, but they keep playing, because we’re a big family, so whatever it takes, we’re going to give.”
At the end of the season, it’s fitting for a team to reflect on the entire journey. At the beginning, the Spudders knew they had the talent for a deep run, but also had to put the pieces together.
Wilson, for one, transferred to Ridgefield from Montana, and wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I think our team just works so well together and we know our strengths. We’re really good about showcasing each other’s strengths,” Wilson said.
“Our team is such a family right now, and this year, it’s just crazy how much we’ve come together and worked together.”
Kruckenburg, one of the team’s captains along with Ellie Petersen, returned to the team after missing the 2022 season with an ACL injury.
“In the beginning it always feels so far away and seems like such a hard thing to accomplish,” Kruckenburg said. “Now that we’re here, I’m looking back on it, and it feels like two weeks ago. This is my last game ever, for high school, and I’m just trying to soak it all in. It just all feels so surreal, just like a dream.”
Indeed, it’s a dream ending for the Spudders and their class of nine seniors, who walk off into the sunset as state champions for the first time.
“A lot of us have really persevered to get here, even to get on varsity,” Semlick said. “To come and to win it all our final year, it means so much. Words can’t really describe it.”