Whittell girls soccer falls to North Tahoe 3-1 in Div. III state championship, denied title defense
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Whittell girls soccer team took the field to defend its state championship on Saturday, Nov. 7. But for the banged up Warriors, a second straight Div. III title wasn’t in the cards.
Second-seeded Whittell fell to top-seeded North Tahoe 3-1 in the championship game at Incline High, unable to match the Lakers after an even first half. The loss ended the Warriors’ season short of their ultimate goal.
“We’re a little sick to our stomachs, but everything and anything we could have asked for the girls have done,” Warriors coach David Caputo said. “They put themselves into the position to be back-to-back champs — unfortunately it wasn’t in it for us.”
Saturday’s championship match was physical and fast-paced from the outset, and was tied 1-1 at halftime after both teams scored on long-distance strikes. Whittell (15-3-2) opened the scoring in the fifth minute on an improbable shot from Kallie Nelson.
Following a Warriors corner kick and clearance, Nelson corralled a loose ball near midfield. The sophomore right back put a shot on frame from 50 yards out that floated over the head of North Tahoe goalkeeper Rosii Barrera and in for a shocking goal that made it 1-0.
“It was awesome. I talked to her about putting herself in a position so that when the ball pops out, all she’s doing is playing simple and putting the ball back into the mix,” Caputo said. “It was great to have that start and set the pace.”
Chances were hard to come by throughout the first half, but North Tahoe (16-3-2) was able to produce an answer before halftime. Whittell failed to fully clear a Lakers cross, and when the ball fell to A.J. Hurt 30 yards from goal she hit a blast into the top left corner of the net that tied the score 1-1.
In the second half, North Tahoe slowly began to wear down the Warriors and eventually took the lead with a set piece. The Lakers scored in the 56th minute when a corner kick from Bryn Anderson fell in the 6-yard box and Valencia Covell put away the short distance shot.
“They came out with intensity, winning those 50-50 balls, making those extra effort runs and putting pressure on us,” Caputo said. “We were almost backing away from the ball at times.”
Whittell had only four shots in the second half, and its best chance to tie the match came in the 62nd minute — a shot from Alize Hernandez in a crowded box deflected wide of goal to keep the Lakers in front. With three minutes left, North Tahoe took a decisive 3-1 lead on a left-footed shot from Anderson.
“We were definitely trying to figure out how to defend and play both sides of it,” Caputo said. “We were trying to figure out a winning combination.”
For North Tahoe, the state championship was its sixth overall and first since 2005. The Lakers’ previous five state titles came in Div. I-A.
“I think the girls just played with so much heart, and we were a team the whole season always working together,” North Tahoe coach Stephanie Bales said. “The girls fought so hard to come back and got three goals in; I could not be more proud of them.”
The Warriors came up short in the state championship a day after beating rival Incline in the state semifinals. Whittell outlasted the host and second-seeded Highlanders 3-2 to advance to the finals, but it came at a cost. Against North Tahoe, neither Ali Copsy nor Gigi Stetler were at full health.
“If our team was at 100 percent, it would have been a little bit different outcome,” Caputo said. “But that’s why we play the game.”
Whittell began the 2015 season with new coaches and a young team — and still made it to the state championship. The Warriors’ fourth straight title game appearance didn’t end the way they wanted, but it doesn’t take away from a campaign filled with success and resiliency.
“The expectations were pretty high, and to look back on the season they’ve had with the record, the wins and what they’ve had to overcome. They’ve done an amazing job and I couldn’t ask anything more of them,” Caputo said. “I’m super proud of the girls.”