Back-to-back champions: South Tahoe girls soccer wins second straight Div. I-A state title, fourth in five seasons
HENDERSON, Nev. — For the sake of his frazzled nerves, South Tahoe girls soccer coach Jeremy Evans would have liked to see his team earn its fourth state championship in five years in less stressful fashion Saturday.
Now that it’s in the bag, however, he and his 11 seniors wouldn’t trade the end result for anything.
“The girls toughed it out. They made it a little more stressful than I would have wanted, but whatever,” said Evans after the Vikings pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory against Sierra Vista (Las Vegas) in the NIAA Div. I-A state championship at Heritage Park.
“Every state title is special, but they’re won differently. We had breaks that went our way and we seized our opportunities. We weren’t always the cleanest team, but I do feel that we are the toughest team when it matters, and I think we showed that again today.”
The state championship marked the second straight for the Vikings, who claimed the Northern Div. I-A league title before losing to Truckee in the regional championship. They shrugged off the defeat — which led in the No. 2 state seed — by taking down the top Southern seed, Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas), 2-1 in the state semifinals Friday night.
With a gritty effort against a resilient Sierra Vista squad that eliminated Truckee with a 1-0 semifinal win Friday, South Tahoe overcame a late game-tying goal on a penalty kick to cement its fourth title in five years within the first three minutes of overtime.
Freshman Annie Brejc kicked home the winner, gathering the rebound off a shot attempt and squeezing the ball into a tight space between Mountain Lions goalkeeper Jayla Olson and the near post.
“I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Brejc said, deflecting credit to her senior teammate. “Ally King headed it and was going for the goal and I just saw it. Our team came together because we wanted it really bad. It was great finishing with a win.”
Evans was not surprised by his freshman’s clutch goal.
“She scored 10 goals in last four games coming in. She’s been on fire, and when the moment counted, she capitalized,” he said.
With its four state championships, South Tahoe moved into third place in the NIAA record book. The Vikings trail only Truckee (eight) and North Tahoe (five).
The ultimate prize could not have been sweeter for the Vikings’ large senior class.
“They’re like my sisters. I don’t know what I would do without them,” said senior defender Jensen Smith, who returned to the game after spraining her ankle early in the contest. “We’ve argued and we’ve been through so much this season. But winning together is so special. I wouldn’t want to do it with any other girls.”
“We’ve all been playing together since we were 5 years old, so it’s pretty amazing that we’ve made it this far together,” senior midfielder Maia Bickert said. “It’s definitely been a ton of fun throughout all the seasons. This whole group has just had a ton of success together.”
The Vikings looked to be on their way to victory in regulation after Bickert scored the go-ahead goal in the 55th minute, and South Tahoe increasingly controlled the action with a crisp possession game. But with only eight minutes remaining, Smith challenged a run by Sophia Omidiji, knocking the Sierra Vista forward off her feet just inside the penalty box.
Omidiji converted the ensuing penalty kick, knotting the score at 2-2 as South Tahoe’s coaching staff contested the call.
“It was crazy to see that happen at that point in time, but I feel like it just pumped us up more,” Brejc said. “It was really cool to see everyone come together after that.”
“It was hard because we all knew there was only like five minutes left,” Bickert said. “But we knew it (the winning goal) would come sooner or later.”
The Vikings had to fight back from an early deficit.
In the 15th minute, Sierra Vista’s skilled sophomore forward Calista Reyes — whose goal was the difference-maker in the semifinals — dribbled to her left near the top of the box and blasted a hard shot across her body and past South Tahoe goalie Alicia Rea.
“That No. 19 (Reyes) was tough,” Evans said. “We haven’t really faced a player like that who has that pace and physicality. That was kind of stunning for our girls.”
South Tahoe responded with the equalizer in the 35th minute. Junior Grace Schouten, who scored both goals in the Vikings’ win over Faith Lutheran, collected a through ball and outraced two defenders before slipping a quick shot by Olson. The game went to half tied 1-1.
About 15 minutes into the second half, Bickert drilled a one-hopper that hit off of Olson’s hands and sailed over her head, giving the Vikings a 2-1 lead.
“It feels great because this is the last time I’m going to get to play with these girls, so it was a good way to go out,” Schouten said. “We have 11 seniors and they’re all my best friends. Every day at school it’s always us, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without them next year.”
Rea, one of South Tahoe’s seniors, said she was happy the Vikings won the title for one of their top players, Jordyn Dion, who watched from the sideline with a large knee brace after suffering a season-ending injury late in the last week of the regular season.
“It’s great ending my senior year with a state championship. It took a lot of work,” said Rea, who sacrificed her body with gutsy saves throughout South Tahoe’s playoff run. “We had our ups and downs throughout the season, but we overcame it. It was hard losing our key player, Jordyn Dion, but we played for her and got a good outcome.”
“It’s pretty amazing,” Bickert said. “This was the last chance to show everyone what we’re made of. It turned out pretty well. It was a battle, but we made it.”
Evans, in his second season as head coach, is now a perfect 2-for-2 in state championship matches.
“All-in-all, this is a special group,” he said. “We have a special group coming back, so we’ll try to keep it rolling.”
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