Whatever Meridian’s girls’ soccer team did, Sultan found a way to counter.
Meridian scores, Sultan scores 18 minutes later. Meridian scores again, Sultan answers a dozen minutes later. Meridian makes a save in the penalty shootout, Sultan makes a save.
Eventually, Meridian’s Emily Schwisow put an end to the drama. With Trojan goalkeeper Sydney Gospodinovich making a big save, all Schwisow had to do was score.
The senior calmly slotted it right past the keeper, and the Trojans completed the 3-2 shootout victory in the Class 1A District 1 Torunament semifinals on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at Whatcom Community College.
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“It feels really good to finally have the game over. It was just so back and forth,” Schwisow said. “We had a lot of opportunities. It feels good to finish some and get some in the goal.”
Back and forth it certainly was.
The Trojans dominated the early proceedings, maintaining possession, piling shots on goal and it finally paid off.
In the 17th minute Payton Lunde sent in a cross from the left wing. Janessa Murphy collected it, took a touch and placed it in the back of the net.
“We came out super strong in the first half,” Meridian coach Terri Tigert said. “The first 25 minutes was exactly how we wanted to play. Our style of play, quick pace, possession.”
Suddenly, though, it was Sultan finding a way to keep the ball, to control the game. In the 35th minute, Turks’ Alexis Griggs tapped in a pass from Victoria Seidl to even the game up.
The second half was almost a mirror image of the first.
Ten minutes in, Lexi McKinnon took a crisp pass from Lunde and blasted it past the Sultan goalkeeper, who barely had a chance to move.
Of course, Sultan responded. Griggs again found the net when she got past the Trojans’ defense and beat Gospodinovich on the breakaway.
“It doesn’t feel good,” Schwisow said. “We work so hard to earn it and then it just gets taken away from us. But we kept going the whole game and kept fighting.”
The battle would continue to the final minutes of regulation, when everyone on Meridian’s bench was standing in anticipation, waiting for the final goal that would determine the outcome.
But they would stay waiting through regulation and then through both overtimes.
There were plenty of opportunities for it to end.
With just three minutes left, Lunde’s shot struck the post and rebounded out. In overtime, Griggs got open twice, only to send it high and wide.
“I think we should have finished a ton of our opportunities that we had,” Tigert said. “So that’s something we are going to be working on going into (bi) districts.”
The game inevitably went to a shootout, where it was more of the same.
Seidl and Ryley Zapien exchanged opening scores, followed by saves from both goalies. Then it was Griggs, Sarah Swift and Jewelia Meischke with goals for Sultan. Murphy, McKinnon and Emily Kooiman all found the net to answer.
When Gospodinovich deflected the next shot off the bar, Schwisow was given her opportunity.
“It’s kind of an awesome high and adrenaline rush,” Tigert said. “I think when you get that high, and then getting down, it’s just a kick in the stomach each time.”
The win secures a berth in the bi-district tournament and gives the Trojans a shot at the district title. The Trojans also avoid the loser-out game, a clear relief for the No. 1-seeded Trojans.
“That’s awesome,” Schwisow said. “It feels good knowing we can just go out and have fun, play for a title.”
The championship game will be against King’s at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, at Sultan High School.
While they already have a berth in the bi-district tournament, the Trojans are still working to get better and they crossed two things off their list on Wednesday — playing on turf and playing in a shootout.
“I think it helps us building forward and it tests us,” Schwisow said. “Having a shootout this early is good for us.”
The turf presented its own challenge, but Tigert thinks it worked to the benefit of the speedy Trojans.
“Definitely, the pace is a lot faster, so we have to work on our touch a little bit,” Tigert said. “Most of the girls do play select soccer so they do spend a lot more time on turf than other teams do in our conference. We took that to our advantage.”
Meridian 3, Sultan 2 (SO)
Goal: Janessa Murphy (Meridian), assist: Payton Lunde, time 17; Goal: Alexis Griggs (Sultan), assist: Victoria Seidl, time 35; Goal: Lexi McKinnon (Meridian), assist: Payton Lunde, time 50; Goal: Alexis Griggs (Sultan), time 62. Goalies (saves) — Sultan: Bailey Bierbrauer (8); Meridian: Sydney Gospodinovich (8). Shots on goal — Sultan 10, Meridian 12.