South Tahoe girls soccer ready to defend state title, opens against Faith Lutheran
DIV. I-A GIRLS SOCCER STATE TOURNAMENT
Nov. 14-15 at Heritage Park, Henderson
Semifinals: Friday, 6 p.m.
(1S) Faith Lutheran (18-6-3) vs. (2N) South Tahoe (19-3-1)
(1N) Truckee (19-3-2) vs. (2S) Sierra Vista (11-5-2)
Championship: Saturday, noon
The South Tahoe girls soccer team’s first defeat in six weeks has it refocused on the ultimate prize — winning back-to-back NIAA Div. I-A state championships. The Vikings head to Henderson, Nev. two wins away from defending their crown, and begin their defense against Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas) in the state semifinals Friday night at Heritage Park.
“It would be amazing — it’s all we want,” Vikings senior defender Jensen Smith said.
South Tahoe (19-3-1) advanced as the North’s second seed after losing in the regional championship, and drew a familiar opening opponent in South top seed Faith Lutheran (18-6-3). The Vikings and the Crusaders met in the state semis last season, with South Tahoe winning 2-1 en route to the championship.
“Our main focus is on Faith Lutheran,” Vikings senior midfielder Ally King said.
Sunset League champion Faith Lutheran earned the top seed in its region by beating Sunset third-place finisher Sierra Vista (Las Vegas) 1-0 in the Southern Region championship. The Mountain Lions (11-5-2) face North No. 1 seed Truckee (19-3-2) in the other semifinal — the winners meet Saturday at noon for the state championship.
“We’re the defending state champions — we totally expect to win,” Vikings head coach Jeremy Evans said. “We have the team to win, we were undefeated in league and our only other losses were to nationally-ranked teams.”
Last weekend, the Vikings faced their first true test since losing star forward Jordyn Dion to a season-ending injury — and delivered mixed results. South Tahoe easily dispatched Lowry in the regional semifinals, but fell to rival Truckee 3-2 in the regional championship match.
“We were all still worried about Jordyn at the time and wondering what we were going to do without her — we were more worried about not losing instead of winning,” Smith said. “It got us back to reality and realizing that we’re not the best unless we play our best.”
South Tahoe’s loss to the rival Wolverines was their first to league opposition all season and snapped a 12-match unbeaten streak. The defeat stunned the Vikings and left a bitter taste in their mouths — but it also helped the team by forcing Evans to take a step back and re-evaluate its tactics in advance of the state tournament.
“I think the problems that we had would have emerged this weekend had they not emerged Saturday,” Evans said. “I would rather have figured some of these things out now in practice than when the games really mattered this week.
“The silver lining and the blessing is that it doesn’t really matter — the season’s not over and we’re going to correct it by Friday,” he added.
The Vikings worked this week to find the best solution to replace the talent and production of Dion — and the combination of formation and personnel that gives them the best chance to defend their state championship. Whether South Tahoe takes the field against Faith Lutheran in its typical 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 with two forwards up top or a “False 9” with no true forwards, its lineup will have a single characteristic — the team’s best players will be playing in positions best suited for them.
“I tried to put the most talented players in attacking spots (last weekend), and it just didn’t work — that was a mistake on my part,” Evans said. “It’s just putting the pieces in the right place. I have to play the best players on the field, and the girls have to buy into that — the most important thing is winning, and winning as a team.”
Last weekend, South Tahoe missed Dion’s leadership as much as her talent — especially in the loss to Truckee. The Wolverines outplayed the Vikings in the one-goal defeat, in part due to the fact that players didn’t have a calming leadership presence on the field.
“That senior leadership was missing — Jordyn’s very vocal and she’s a presence out there,” Evans said. “When things started to go against us, we had nowhere to turn — and it all started to crumble.”
The leadership is now up to team captains King and Smith, both of whom earned learned valuable lessons in the Vikings’ loss to Truckee. The seniors’ main takeaway was the need to be more vocal on the pitch.
“Jordyn was the one that really talked to us — she definitely would keep the mood up at points and give us the motivation we needed,” Smith said. “After the talks that we had last weekend, Ally and I realized that we needed to step it up a little. We need to talk a little bit more and tell our offensive players what to do.”
“We have to step it up a lot more and lead by example for the underclassmen,” King added.
A competitive week of practices has helped South Tahoe regain its confidence in advance of the state tournament. The Vikings have been shaken up in recent weeks, and will need to play with the swagger of a defending state champion in order to leave Henderson with a third state title in four seasons.
“We have to have that moxie and that confidence,” Evans said. “A confident South Tahoe team is better than what we saw on Saturday and probably the best team in this tournament — if we get that swagger back, it starts to spread, we’re clicking, we’re buzzing and it’s good.”
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