By Ray Hamill — The Eureka center backs took center stage at both ends of the field on Saturday, as the Loggers took a major step on the road toward retaining their league title in girls soccer.
Eureka traveled to Arcata and came away with a 3-0 win over their biggest rivals, improving to 6-0 in the Humboldt-Del Norte League.
Almost halfway through the schedule, the Loggers are a game-and-a-half clear at the top of the standings, with wins over their two closest competitors.
On Saturday, they continued to roll, with center backs Keylei Carroll and Grace Plessinger instrumental in the win.
Both impressed in defense all day, holding a potentially dangerous Arcata attack in check, and giving up few clearcut chances.
Just as importantly, it was Carroll and Plessinger who provided two of the team’s goals, both from set pieces.
The Loggers took the lead midway through the first half, when Carroll headed home from a corner kick.
Plessinger rounded out the scoring late in the game, scoring directly from a free kick from out near the sideline, and bypassing a packed penalty area by sending her shot into the top corner of the goal.
Stone dominates again
The always dangerous Olivia Stone scored Eureka’s second goal 20 minutes into the second half, running onto a well-placed through ball off the head of Adriana Newland, and slotting home with a well-taken shot past the onrushing keeper.
The second goal took the wind out of Arcata’s sails, although the home team never stopped battling, as you would expect in this rivalry.
In midfield, Karina Zumbrun was again the Tigers’ most dangerous player, alongside Nina Crossen.
As always, the two were involved in any worthwhile Tigers attack, although they were continually frustrated by a strong Eureka defensive effort.
The Loggers posted their sixth consecutive shutout to start the season, although it was a busier than usual day in goal for first-year varsity starter Sadie Wilkinson.
“Sadie was tested more than she’s ever been, and she shined,” Eureka head coach Andy Salatny said.
In front of her, Plessinger, a junior, and Carroll, a sophomore, were almost flawless, alongside fullbacks Madie Evansizer and Rebecca Russ.
Up front, Stone turned in a player-of-the-match performance.
The senior standout was dangerous every time she had the ball and instrumental in almost every Eureka attack.
Alongside her, sophomore Klayre Barres and senior Athena Miller were equally impressive going forward, as the Loggers tried to catch the Arcata defense off guard with through balls to their speedy forwards.
Strong Arcata defense
The Arcata back line was up to the task on most occasions, with the ever-reliable Gwyn Stratton and Zoe Leonard anchoring a strong unit alongside fullbacks Bella Garrett and Sarah Jensen.
Leonard was particularly impressive tidying up wave after wave of attack, while Garrett and Jensen looked good in possession and set several Arcata attacks in motion down the sideline.
It’s also worth noting that despite the Loggers’ tactics, two of their goals came from set pieces, a testament to the home team’s defense.
In goal, Skaidra Pulley and Sophia Belton each played a half for Arcata, and each played well, particularly when taking possession away from the onrushing Eureka forwards time and again.
“Team wide, it was our best effort,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said. “They played as an entire unit, talking and supporting each other.”
Big rivalry lives up to billing
The Tigers appeared up for the occasion and came out playing hard, because of the importance of the game, no doubt, as well as the rivalry.
“Eureka, Arcata is always going to be fired up,” Stranahan said. “Eureka battled hard, Arcata battled hard, and Eureka took advantage of their opportunities.”
Salatny wasn’t surprised to see the home players fight as hard as they did.
“We definitely knew Arcata would step up to the plate,” he said.
Up front for Eureka, Newland and Aquena Tolfsson each also impressed and kept the Arcata defenders on their toes throughout.
The Tigers, who dropped to 3-2-1 in league play and 5-4-1 overall, will try to get back on track at home to Del Norte on Wednesday.
The Eureka girls, meanwhile, will try to keep their perfect start going when they host Fortuna on Wednesday. in another key league showdown.
“What I like about being on top is everyone’s trying to take us down a notch, which keeps us on our toes,” Salatny said.