Nooksack Valley’s boys’ soccer team might want to take some notes from King’s on what it takes to win in the playoffs.
The Knights, a perennial state playoff contender, were the inferior team for much of the game but capitalized on their scoring opportunities while the Pioneers, a long-struggling program in their first playoff game as the favorite in years, controlled the run of play but blew chance after chance.
The result was a 3-1 victory for King’s (13-5-0, 10-4-0 Cascade Conference) in the second round of the Class 1A Northwest District 1 Tournament on Wednesday, May 6, at Nooksack Elementary. King’s clinched a spot in the Class 1A Bi-District Tournament with the win and Nooksack Valley (11-5-1, 7-4-1 Northwest Conference) will play a loser-out game with Lynden Christian on Saturday, May 9.
“Obviously we’ve had our struggles but I think our struggles have made this team stronger,” Nooksack Valley forward Brent Berends said after the game. “We’re playing a team like King’s who have some people who know what they can do. I think we came together but we just gave up a little bit in this game.”
It all started so perfectly for the Pioneers, too, playing on a field they’ve only lost once at this year.
They dominated possession, finding holes in a King’s defense that had only allowed 15 goals in 17 games coming into the contest.
Frequently, Nooksack Valley’s forwards got behind the back line of the Knights. Luke VanWingerden, David Flores, Luis Garcia and Berends all had good opportunities to score.
But the Pioneers couldn’t find the net — missing wide left, then wide right, then scrambling in the box only to have it cleared at the last second.
“Every time you don’t capitalize, it’s disappointing, especially when you’re in a district game like this,” Berends said. “We would have loved to capitalize on them. We had our chances and we should have finished them.”
Nooksack Valley only got two shots on target — out of a dozen opportunities — in the opening 40 minutes. The first came from Flores, who beat the keeper with a shot only to see a defender clear the ball at the goal line.
The second was the Pioneers’ breakthrough, coming in the 27th minute when Berends calmly slotted a ball home courtesy of a great assist by VanWingerden.
“It was a beautiful through ball so I knew I just had to take one touch and I saw the goalie diving a little bit and the defensive player coming across. I knew if I put it too high it would hit the defender so I just slid it through — over the goalie and under the defender,” Berends said. “It was obviously very exciting to score a district goal, especially when we were up 1-0.”
But the missed chances soon came back to haunt the Pioneers, as did the absence of team captain and defensive anchor Will Kingma, who twisted his ankle as part of a non-team activity the past weekend.
Just minutes before halftime, a poor goal kick gave King’s the ball and Landon Hawley beat a Pioneers’ defender before pushing it past Levi VanWingerden to even the score before the whistle.
“We came out strong initially but then we started — especially in the last five minutes of the first half — we started giving it to them more,” Berends said.
Those mental miscues continued in the second half, even as the Pioneers controlled the run of play for the most part.
The script was repetitive in the second half: get the ball up the field, take one too many touches, give the ball away and chase it down.
In the 69th minute, King’s finally made Nooksack pay, as Svenn Helleren followed up on a rebound from a fantastic diving save by Levi VanWingerden to make it 2-1.
Just two minutes later, Helleren found the net again when he got behind the defense off a throw-in.
“After the second goal, players started getting the frustrations into their head and giving up. We can’t have that,” Nooksack coach Valentin Villalobos said. “We were just following the ball wherever they go. We just can’t do that in games like this. ... They worked hard to get where they are right now and it’s more frustrating because they lost an entire season in 40 minutes.”
Senior defender Kyle Macy gave his best effort to make up for the team’s mistakes with his speed, thwarting several Knights’ attacks, but few things are comparable to a four-year captain.
“It’s tough on the teammates and coaches, but it’s even harder on him. He wanted to be here so bad,” Villalobos said. “I know what he’s got and what he brings to the team. He’s a team captain, a team leader. He’s key out there.”
Fortunately, he’s expected back for Saturday’s match with LC, as the Pioneers face a loser-out situation.
“We’re going to have to shake this loss off,” Berends said. “Spread it out, play our game. I feel like we can do it.”
King’s 3, Nooksack Valley 1