LAUREL - Meridian's Payton Lunde lifted her arms, slightly shrugged her shoulders and jogged back to meet her teammates at midfield during the first half of the Trojans' Class 1A Northwest District semifinal matchup with South Whidbey.
It was hardly the expression one might expect from a girl who just put her team up by two goals, but then again, how often does someone see a two-hop shot from 15 yards out slip between the goalie's legs to find the back of the net?
The thing was, that was the second time South Whidbey's keeper, Grace Stringer, allowed a ball to slip through her hands into the net. If Lunde's expression told of shock, Stringer's told of sheer disbelief as she glared into her gloves wondering how she let two balls sneak past her.
It's not like Meridian was complaining, though.
"Hey, we'll take it," Meridian coach Andrea Ames said. "I will always take a ball in the back of the net no matter what it looks like."
The Trojans went on to defeat the Falcons 4-1 on Friday, Nov. 2, at Meridian High School, setting up a rematch with King's on Saturday, Nov. 3, at King's, the team that knocked Meridian out of the state quarterfinals last season with a 1-0 win.
And don't think King's has been far from the minds of Meridian's players. Even before the season began, the stinging 1-0 loss was used as motivation by Ames and her coaching staff, pushing their players to remember how close they were to advancing to the state 1A semifinals.
"Out here during two-a-days, we're doing our 10-minute drill, our coach, to get us to push it on that last minute ... how she got us to keep going is, 'Do it because we want to beat King's,'" senior forward Taylor Lunde said. "Playing King's, the freshmen, they don't exactly know from experience, but I think they got it figured out from our team that that was a very emotional time for us, and it is never fun to end, but especially when it's your family and you are losing a part of your family."
King's advanced to the district finals after defeating Lynden Christian 3-1 on Friday, Nov. 1, in Shoreline. While both Meridian and King's have secured spots in tri-districts, the grudge match on Saturday will determine who claims District 1's top seed.
"If we come out and play how we really want (to), with heart and that we really want (to) ... there is no doubt in my mind we can come away with the win," Taylor Lunde said.
South Whidbey will meet Lynden Christian Saturday, Nov. 2 in the third-place game.
The match began with Meridian forward Ryley Zapien stepping into a strike from the left side of the box. The ball navigated through a slew of defenders before bouncing off Stringer's gloves into the left side of the net, giving Meridian a 1-0 lead only three minutes in.
And while Payton Lunde's goal was a soft, low liner that bounced in between Slater's legs, Zapien's goal was anything but a gimme.
"The first was a nice shot to the corner," Ames said of Zapien's goal. "She had a lot of power on it."
Payton Lunde's goal came in the 29th minute, which rounded out Meridian's first-half scoring.
Entering the second, Taylor Lunde received a feed from Lexi McKinnon on the left side of the box, beating Stringer from only a few feet out in the 46th minute.
The McKinnon-Taylor Lunde connection was a welcome sight for Ames, who has seen many of her top players, including McKinnon, miss significant time this season due to injury. It's good timing, too, considering her team is getting healthy at the right time of the year.
Taylor Lunde would add the fourth and final goal in the 71st minute off a leading pass from Zapien. Zapien, playing a few yards beyond midfield, hit a streaking Taylor Lunde on the left side, who one-touched a lefty shot inside the far post past a sprawling Stringer.
"I saw the opening, and I knew that if I made eye contact, (she) would see it, too, because that is just how we are," Taylor Lunde said. "As I went, I saw and just waited, and I knew they were going to play the ball, so as soon as I saw it left (her) foot, I took off."
South Whidbey's Maia Sparkman lofted a ball just over the reach of Meridian keeper Sydney Gospodinovich in the 74th minute to prevent the shutout for the freshman goalie, who only had to make three saves in the entire match.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2238. For other Whatcom County sports news, follow on Twitter @bhamsports
MERIDIAN 4, SOUTH WHIDBEY 1
Goal: Ryley Zapien (Meridian), assist NA: time: 3:00; Goal: Payton Lunde (Meridian), assist NA: time: 29:00; Goal: Taylor Lunde (Meridian), assist Lexi McKinnon: time: 46:00; Goal: Taylor Lunde (Meridian), assist Ryley Zapien: time: 71:00; Goal: Maia Sparkman (South Whidbey), assist NA: time: 74:00. Shots on goal: South Whidbey 4; Meridian 12. Goalies (saves) South Whidbey: Gracie Slater (6); Meridian: Sydney Gospodinovich (3).