Homefield heartbreak: South Tahoe girls soccer falls to Faith Lutheran in Div. I-A State championship, two-year run ends
The stage was set for a storybook ending to the South Tahoe girls soccer team’s 2015 season on Saturday, Nov. 14. But in the Div. I-A State championship match, the final chapter of the Vikings’ campaign instead ended with heartbreak on their home field.
South Tahoe lost 1-0 to Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas) on Saturday morning at Viking Stadium, unable to rally from a halftime deficit despite consistent pressure in the second half. The defeat ended the Vikings’ season in bitter fashion, one win short of a third straight state championship.
“It’s heartbreaking. There are no words that I can possibly say to console this group — I feel for them,” Vikings coach Mark Salmon said. “We achieved everything we wanted to in getting here, and to fall one goal shy of the ultimate victory is unfortunate.”
In the first half, South Tahoe (18-3-3) struggled to maintain possession and create scoring chances in the matchup between the top-seeded teams from the Northern and Southern regions. Faith Lutheran (20-6-2) controlled play early, and scored the lone goal of the match in the 13th minute.
The Crusaders played a long ball from midfield that found Maggie Shuirman in space and caught South Tahoe goalkeeper Claudia Janese off her line. Janese strayed from goal and tried to recover, but it was too late. Shuirman pushed a 15-yard shot past her into the right corner of the net to give Faith Lutheran a lead it would never surrender.
“It was a little bit of a breakdown that just shouldn’t have happened,” Salmon said. “It was a goal that was unnecessary.”
The Vikings trailed 1-0 at halftime after a sluggish first half. South Tahoe attempted only three shots in the opening frame, and its only shot on goal was easily saved in the 17th minute.
“It was strange,” Salmon said. “It was a lack of intensity and energy, which was surprising. I didn’t think that the girls would allow themselves to do that — and unfortunately it wasn’t just one player, it was the whole team.”
In the second half, South Tahoe turned up the pressure and controlled play — but the goals didn’t come. In the 51st minute, Annie Brejc broke into the box from the left wing and fired a shot wide. Ten minutes later, Samantha Frates got on the end of a corner kick, but kneed it just over the crossbar.
Almost all of the match’s last 20 minutes were played in Faith Lutheran’s half, but South Tahoe still couldn’t break through. The Vikings’ best late chance to pull even came when Brejc fired a low cross into the box toward Kenya Maltase in the 78th minute; the ball glanced off the senior and into the arms of Faith Lutheran goalkeeper Beka Lescenski.
“How we didn’t get one of those shots to drop — we definitely should have finished those opportunities,” Salmon said. “We were the better team, we had the better opportunities and we just couldn’t finish it. It’s a game of inches, and that’s what it came down to today.”
In the dying seconds of the match, Frates sent a free kick from near midfield that landed outside the Crusaders’ box. Faith Lutheran handled that last threat to end the match — as the final whistle sounded, Vikings players tearfully slumped to the turf in disbelief.
“To see them collapse on the field — their home field — like that, I don’t know if we can ever match that feeling,” Salmon said. “It’s a tough way to go out.”
The loss ended South Tahoe’s run of back-to-back Div. I-A state championships, and kept the hosts from hoisting the trophy on their home field. Instead, Faith Lutheran celebrated its first state championship in program history after being eliminated by the Vikings in the state semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
“It’s brutal, especially for the seniors,” Salmon said. “It’s the last time they played at Viking Stadium, they wanted it bad and I think the other girls wanted it for them. Especially when you’re the two-time champs and playing at home — that’s what made this one so special.”
In the state semifinals on Friday, Nov. 13, South Tahoe advanced to the championship match with a 3-1 win over South second seed Spring Valley (Las Vegas) at Viking Stadium. The Vikings broke a 1-1 halftime tie with goals from Brejc and Maltase in the first four minutes of the second half en route to victory — Faith Lutheran beat North second seed Truckee 2-1 in the other semifinal.
“There’s a very slight difference between confidence and arrogance, and I think they went in thinking they had this thing sewn up after the semifinals,” Salmon said. “They didn’t take it seriously enough, and Faith Lutheran came to play.”