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1A state soccer: No. 19 Meridian knocks off No. 14 King’s Way Christian 2-1 in opening-round game

Knights make second straight appearance at 1A state tournament, finish season 10-7-1

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 14, 2024, 9:43pm

King’s Way Christian made its debut at the Class 1A boys soccer state tournament in 2023, then reached more uncharted territory this season by hosting a state playoff game on its home field. Naturally, the next step for the up-and-coming Knights is to win one.

No. 14 seed King’s Way came up short of that elusive state victory Tuesday, falling to No. 19 Meridian by a 2-1 deficit in the state opening round. Meridian (10-4-1) advances to face No. 3 Royal in the second round Friday.

It was the first time this season King’s Way (10-7-1) dropped back-to-back games after narrowly losing the 1A district championship to Columbia-White Salmon on Saturday. But after a regular season filled with numerous injuries and a third-place finish in the Trico League, the Knights still managed to fulfill their goal of returning to state with a pair of wins at the district tournament.

“This team set goals from the start, and the guys that were on the team last year had their first state run,” King’s Way coach Niko DeVera said. “It felt good (and) they wanted to do it again.

“It was all about mindset for them — that’s where they found it. Just being here and being able to host a state game was another big thing for them, something they hadn’t done before. We would’ve liked to continue on, but still, the strides they made in the last two years is good for them.”

The Knights faced a multi-goal deficit in the second half after Meridian’s Skyler Rowe scored from straight on in the 56th minute, which gave the Trojans an insurance goal after they took a 1-0 lead to halftime on Taran Burks’ first-half goal assisted by Asher Todd.

The Knights went more than 60 minutes without a goal against a strong Meridian back line and goalkeeper Daniel Larsen, who recorded four saves.

“That’s something every team struggles with when they’re down … because we had a game plan going into it, and then when you go down, you kind of have to change the whole thing,” DeVera said. “We changed our formation, tried to go more attacking. It worked, we got a goal in, but it was asking more of our back line to stay more defensive. … It was just one of those where you put a lot more pressure on the back line when you do that.”

Just seven minutes after Meridian took a 2-0 lead, King’s Way senior Ryan Tyler scored on a scramble in front of goal following a Luke Gomes free kick. The Knights were within striking distance, and had a chance at an equalizer in the 67th minute when a Jael Matson shot on frame was headed out by a Meridian defender near the goal line.

From there, however, the Knights became more frantic while battling against the clock and were unable to put together another threatening attack.

“It was more individual play rather than team play the last 10 minutes or so,” DeVera said.

The majority of players on this year’s King’s Way team were also part of last year’s run. Twice they’ve experienced the thrill of reaching state, but also the sting from losing their first game. DeVera hopes returning players, minus seven graduating seniors, can use the latter feeling as fuel heading into next season.

“Just the feeling of losing so early and not wanting to go through that again, knowing that we were very close,” he said.

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