Fortunately for both Payton Lunde and the Meridian girls’ soccer team, the sophomore standout received an unexpected second chance to score on the same sequence against one of the toughest goalkeepers in the Northwest Conference.
Otherwise, Meridian and Lynden might still be playing, so feisty were both teams.
In a matchup of state tournament hopefuls, Lunde’s ninth goal of the season, off an assist on a rebound by senior Lexi McKinnon, spoiled a praiseworthy effort by Lynden goalie Emily Holt in Meridian’s 1-0 win on Thursday, Oct. 2, at Bender Fields.
Lunde’s goal in the 31st minute would be one of the few scoring opportunities she would get because first-year Meridian coach Terri Tigert moved the stalwart athlete to back-line defense for a tense second half.
“I don’t really remember what happened on that sequence,” Lunde said. “I just shot (and Holt slapped the ball away for one of her 10 saves). Then there was a rebound and Lexi slotted the ball to me and I managed to find a corner.
“Their goalie (Holt) is really good, really aggressive,” Lunde said. “I like playing offense best, but I play defense for the team. This was only the second time this season I’ve been moved back to defense.”
So was Meridian’s standout keeper, sophomore Sydney Gospodinovich, when she was called on to make three saves in the opening minutes of the second half. Lynden (5-2-3 overall, 3-2-1 NWC) managed only two shots in the first 40 minutes of what turned out to be her fifth shutout.
Tigert — who was a four-year standout for the Trojans and won four letters at Humboldt State University — gambled that playing heavily back on defense in the second half would work even though she started eight sophomores.
“I have 100 percent faith in our girls,” said Tigert, who is both bidding for a Class 1A district top seed for Meridian (6-1-1, 4-0-1) and building for what could be an outstanding future.
Gospodinovich’s leadership and effort reminded Tigert what a fortunate young coach she is.
“I’m ecstatic that Sydney is our keeper,” Tigert said. “As a sophomore, she’s one of our toughest players. She’s an outstanding leader. Everyone looks up to Sydney.”
Tigert also took time to praise the vigilant efforts of Holt, who frustrated the Trojans time after time with nine saves in the first half alone.
“I think Holt did an amazing job,” said Tigert of the keeper, a major reason Lynden has allowed only nine goals, including what Tigert credited as Lunde’s ninth score . “She was very aggressive and she really communicated well. She sees the whole field so well.”
First-year Lynden coach Carlos Melendez echoed Tigert’s comments.
“Emily was just fantastic when they were taking shot after shot at us,” said the coach, whose team has now been shut out by contenders Sedro-Woolley and Meridian after going unbeaten in the Lions‘ first eight games. “It was a tale of two halves. In the second half, our defense came up big. Lily Bogart (a freshman) really came through well on defense for us.”
Just how tough was Lynden’s defense after it got untracked? Considering that Meridian came in with 38 goals scored and only eight allowed, pretty darned tough, both coaches figured.
Meridian, which played in pink socks for Breast Cancer Awareness, has actually had an even better defense than the statistics indicate, since Bellingham scored six of the eight goals the Trojans have allowed.
Meridian sophomore Ryley Zapien twice hit the bar in the first half. Meanwhile, Meridian’s starting back line of sophomores Emily Kooiman, Michaela Pimento and Shivpreet Brar and senior Emily Schwisow helped limit Lynden to two shots in the first half.
Meridian’s other sophomore starters were Emily Brackinreed up front and Emily Stuth in the middle. McKinnon, striker Janessa Murphy and Schwisow provided senior leadership.
In the second half, tall and talented Lynden senior Lexi Smiley tried several good shots, but none found the mark thanks to Gospodinovich, Lunde and the other Meridian defenders during that tense span.
Meridian next plays Tuesday, Oct. 7 at Anacortes, while Lynden hosts Nooksack the same day.