SHORELINE - Forget the Cinderella story. Bellingham proved it was one of the best girls' soccer teams in the state, and it didn't need a championship trophy to affirm it.
The Red Raiders fell to Sumner 2-0 in the Class 2A State Girls' Soccer Championship game on Saturday, Nov. 23, at Shoreline Stadium, placing second for only the second time in program history. For the Spartans, the win capped back-to-back state championships.
For Bellingham, the momentous run from finishing seventh in the Northwest Conference standings to losing in the state championship game left none of the girls in tears.
"In the past years, we've lived through getting out in districts, and it's just been hard games with heartbreak," said junior midfielder Hattie North. "But this game, I think everyone just put it on the line, and we knew what we were doing, and it just didn't work out for us.
"I think everyone was proud. We are the team that got second in state, and no one expected us to get that far."
Bellingham's habit of making things difficult on itself surfaced again in this game, although it was clear the Red Raiders' bodies were still recovering from their battle with Squalicum the night before. The incredible comebacks the Red Raiders had employed so often throughout their run to state had little doing against the Spartans' back line, which was simply too large to generate much of an attack against.
"Their back four is huge," Bellingham coach Mark Wright said. "We had some success late in the season creating magic in a lot of different ways, and in the end one team has to win, and I think that Sumner team is pretty deserving of winning."
The Spartans jumped out to an early lead when Kinsey Saiz took a cross from Ellie Degoede. Degoede lofted the cross from the right hash through a group of defenders, and Saiz finished it to the far-right post. Bellingham keeper Hannah Jacobus made a diving attempt to prevent the goal, but it simply rolled past her to give Sumner the early edge 25 minutes in.
Despite the early deficit, the Red Raiders controlled the tempo for much of the first half. Cashel Vincent sent several crosses into the box from the right side, but time and again Sumner would casually snuff out any real threat because of their size.
"(Sumner) is so different from what we usually play," North said. "We've never played a team like this before, and it was hard to adjust."
The Spartans' offensive pressure began to wear down a weary Bellingham squad in the early stages of the second half. Tries that the Red Raiders were preventing away from their own goal kept getting closer and closer, and finally Sumner's Jordan Thompson connected on a shot from the center of the field from about 25 yards out.
Thompson received a centering pass from teammate Brooke Lancaster and proceeded to plant and strike a ball to the upper right corner of the net. Jacobus hardly made an attempt on the ball, and it wouldn't have mattered even if she did.
"I try to shake those goals off," Jacobus said. "We've scored three goals in a half before, so I knew we could come back."
Bellingham managed to stage comebacks against defenses that weren't the Spartans', though. Sumner entered its match up with the Red Raiders boasting 102 goals scored to just five allowed.
The Red Raiders' threats after the Spartans took the 2-0 lead were few and far between. Shots were mostly being taken from outside the box, while Sumner continued to test Jacobus.
She made several saves in the waning moments of the game, including a diving punch that saw the senior keeper fully extend her body to flick the rolling shot just wide of the post.
Jacobus, like Wright, admitted the loss was bittersweet. Despite the notion that the team wasn't supposed to be competing for a state title, envisioning lifting the trophy wasn't far from the Red Raiders' minds before the game began.
Still, nothing can be taken away from this team, North said. This team was the first to make it to state since 2006 and only the second Bellingham squad to make it to the state semifinals and championship game, joining the 2002 squad. It was the first to beat Sehome in six years. It defeated Squalicum, the NWC champion, in the semifinals. It even beat Ridgefield in the first round of state after trailing by two goals with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Win or not, a second-place trophy isn't all the team is going to take away from its improbable run.
"The things that go back in to my mind, after everything is over going down and sitting in my house and thinking of every face of every girl on my team, and all they did to sacrifice to get us to this point," Wright said. "You don't get these opportunities as a coach very often, to ride a team this far and see how far you can get. But the last four weeks coaching this team has been one of the most memorable coaching experiences of my life."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports news.
SUMNER 2, BELLINGHAM 0
Goals: Kinsey Saiz (Sumner), Assist: NA, Time: 25:00; Goal: Jordan Thompson (Sumner), Assist: Brooke Lancaster, Time: 48:00. Shots on goal: Sumner (11), Bellingham (6); Saves: Jamie Langs (Sumner) 3, Hannah Jacobus (Bellingham) 6.
Sumner mascot corrected to Spartans.