By MARTIN HARRIS
Free Press Sports Editor
ELKO - Five minutes was all that separated the Elko girls soccer team from a regional championship.
However, South Tahoe used the final few minutes to tie Saturday's Northern I-A regional championship game, and the Lady Vikings pulled out a 2-1 victory in the sudden death overtime period. While the Lady Indians already had their spot at state clinched, they were looking to win their second straight regional title.
Veteran Elko coach Michelle Nicholls hopes it will feed her team going into this weekend's state tournament.
"I think South Tahoe could have awoke a sleeping giant," she said. "These guys haven't lost in 22 games, and I think they got a fire lit under them with this loss."
While the regional trophy is nice, both teams know a greater trophy awaits down the road.
South Tahoe coach Chris DeLeon described the win as just a "little battle in the war" that is the season.
Of course, Elko and South Tahoe are very familiar with each other. The two have met in the last two state title games - with the Vikings coming away with both trophies - and they have now split the last two regional championship games.
"We have so much respect for Elko and Michelle's program," DeLeon said. "Today the ball bounced our way."
The Lady Indians got an early goal for a 1-0 lead when Makayla Jenkins took a shot. The ball was stopped by South Tahoe goalie Alejandra Orozco, but the keeper could not contain the ball. As it bounced away, Jenkins corralled her own miss and quickly put the ball in the back of the net just 3:25 into the contest.
The lead for most of the game as Orozco and Elko goalie Raelynn Forcella turned away several attacks. The Tribe did most of the attacking in the first half, but each team had opportunities. The Vikings' Brittany Sanchez had a one-on-one with Forcella in the first half and got off a point-blank shot at the goal, but Forcella came up with the stop. In the second half, the Vikings were dealt a blow as Sanchez had to be carried off the field. Her leg was wrapped in bandages after the game, and it appeared she could not put any weight on it.
In the second half, Elko changed up its game plan.
"We hunkered down and played defense," Nicholls said. "I knew they'd come out at halftime strong."
Meanwhile, DeLeon said he was "pushing more up top" in the second half. With about 5 minutes left, South Tahoe was awarded a direct kick on a call by the center official. Elko's Brook Pawelek was in front of a South Tahoe player when it appeared the player knocked Pawelek down from behind, however, the center official called tripping on Pawelek. The Vikings were awarded a direct kick from about 35 yards out. The ball went into the box where Brooke King was able to tie the score.
The score remained tied as the contest headed into overtime. Just a few minutes into the extra session, the Vikings brought it to an end. Brittany Hubberts scored to send the Vikings into state as the No. 1 seed from the north.
Of course, the seeding might be a pleasant surprise for the Lady Indians due to an upset in the Southern I-A regional. Faith Lutheran bested Pahrump Valley, which came as the defending 4A state champs from last year. So the Trojans will play South Tahoe, while Elko draws the Crusaders. The Indians actually beat Faith Lutheran 1-0 in the season opener for both teams Aug. 24.
"The biggest thing for us is one step at a time," DeLeon said of his team's upcoming run at a third straight state title. "Elko and South Tahoe each have to go up against a powerhouse from the south. We'll continue our hard work this week."
Nicholls had a similar sentiment.
"We'll work hard in practice and push each other," she said.
The loss snapped a series of streaks for the Tribe's soccer program. In addition to bringing an end to a 22-game winning streak, Elko was scored on for the first time in 16 games, and freshman Natalie Kump, who had scored in 19 straight games, was held scoreless. All three of those marks are either program or state records.
Nicholls, who is on the verge of breaking the Nevada high school girls soccer coaching victories record, will have to wait until next season. She needs three more wins to tie the mark of 152 and at most, only two games remain to be won.
With all of those distractions out of the way, the Indians will need to play better this week than it showed this weekend.
"There was a lot of pressure on these girls," Nicholls said of the streaks.
The Indians go into state with a record of 23-4, and the Vikings improve to 19-1-2. According to seeding on the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association website, Elko plays at 6 p.m. Friday against Faith Lutheran, while South Tahoe takes on Pahrump Valley at 4 p.m. Henderson's Heritage Park will host the state tournament.