Finally champions: Whittell girls soccer wins Div. III state title, ends Incline’s run
ZEPHYR COVE — After falling short in the state championship each of the past two seasons, the Whittell girls soccer team delivered on the big stage. The top-seeded Warriors started fast and held off second-seeded Incline 3-1 in the NIAA Div. III state championship Saturday on their home field, ending the Highlanders’ run of back-to-back championships.
“It was a memory we will never forget,” Warriors senior forward Mikayla Warner said. “This was our whole season, and it was great to end it that way — there couldn’t have been a better feeling.”
Whittell (18-1) opened the scoring in the first quarter-hour, but its first big play came courtesy of goalkeeper Lauren George. Incline (15-6) drew a foul in the box that resulted in a penalty kick — George moved right as Highlanders forward Vanessa Andrade struck the ball, and had to stretch back to the middle of the goal to make a stunning kick save in the eighth minute that kept the game scoreless.
“I had to save it for our entire team and do it for everyone — we’ve worked so hard and I couldn’t let it go past,” George said.
“She has been a dancer for her whole life and she made a dancer’s save — it was an unbelievable save,” Warriors head coach Patrick Kelly added.
The Warriors struck on their first shot of the match, capitalizing on a Highlanders turnover to take a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute. Forward Kenya Maltase took a flicked through ball from forward Ali Copsy and hit a low shot that struck the inside of both posts before fully crossing the line.
The match was back and forth from the outset, and Incline needed only six minutes to pull even after the Warriors’ score. Andrade broke free for a one-on-one situation against George, and slid the ball past Whittell’s keeper to make it 1-1 in the 20th minute.
Five minutes later, the Warriors answered to jump back in front. Copsy stole the ball in the attacking third and fired a driven shot from 20 yards out that landed in the lower right corner of the goal — the sophomore’s team-leading 26th goal of the season gave Whittell a 2-1 lead it would take into the break.
“As a team, we do have our complications sometimes but we really know when to pull it together through games and come out on top — we did that today,” Warner said.
Incline turned up the pressure at the start of the second half, and controlled play while Whittell clung to its one-goal lead. In the 57th minute, a long pass left Andrade alone in the box and she launched a shot toward goal from close range — but the strike fired off the crossbar and the Warriors stayed in front.
“We played a lot of defense today, and our defense stepped up to the challenge,” Kelly said. “We were sitting back a little bit — we were under constant pressure.”
Three minutes after the Highlanders’ near-goal, Whittell found the back of the net to take a commanding two-goal lead. Midfielder Sabrina Trachsel hit a shot from outside the box that bounced off the hands of the Incline goalkeeper and across the line — after the 60th minute score, the Warriors were able to close out the two-time defending champs en route to victory.
“I was not expecting that to go in — but it’s just taking the chance,” Trachsel said. “I even started walking back, then I heard the cheers, turned around and realized I scored — that did give our team the confidence back that we needed.”
For Whittell, the championship marked its second state title in program history and first since 2002. The Warriors lost to Incline in the championship the past two years — including a 1-0 overtime defeat in 2013.
“After going into that same exact game the last two years, going in and winning this one made it so much better,” Warriors defender Michael Gardner said. “We had a break between us scoring our third goal and the game being over — we kind of had some time to take it in and enjoy it.”
In the semifinals on Friday, Whittell beat fourth-seeded White Pine 5-0 while Incline advanced with a 5-3 win over third-seeded North Tahoe. Against the defensive-minded Bobcats, Warriors midfielder Madison Idso opened the scoring in the 13th minute and Maltase scored the next four — the junior finished the season with 22 goals.
“That was one of our better games this season — we had a lot of passing, movement off the ball and good finishing,” Kelly said.
Whittell dominated opposition on the way to an undefeated Div. III North League championship in the regular season, and finished the campaign unbeaten in 16 matches in the division — its only loss came in a nonleague match at South Tahoe. The Warriors outscored division opponents by a combined score 118-7 en route to the state title.
“We really deserved it, and it was really nice to finish our senior year on our turf winning a state title for our team,” Warner said.
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