By Ray Hamill — The Fortuna Huskies are one of the few teams on the North Coast that don’t appear intimidated by the high-flying Eureka Loggers this season.
They chased them all the way for the league title, and they are the only squad to have scored on them, playing them closer than anyone else in each of their two league encounters.
Fortuna matched up well once again against the unbeaten Loggers in Saturday’s Humboldt-Del Norte League Tournament championship game at Eureka High, holding the most potent offense in the county in check for much of the game.
In the end, though, the Eureka girls simply had too much talent to hold down, and the Loggers ran out to a 3-0 win, while improving to 16-0 on the year.
“First of all, I want to give a shout out to (head coach) Kevin O’Neil and the Fortuna team,” Eureka head coach Andy Salatnay said. “They consistently bring the effort and challenge us.”
The Huskies have lost three times to the undefeated Loggers this season, but they appear to relish the challenge every time, and are the most complete team on the North Coast other than Eureka, never relying too much on any one or two players.
“They’re not afraid one bit,” Salatnay said. “They definitely have the desire to keep us on our toes, and they bring the intensity. And for us, it’s good to face that challenge.”
Up for the challenge
Salatnay’s squad, however, had more than enough for that challenge, and should go into the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Division-I bracket, which will likely give them a first-round bye when the North Coast Section playoffs get under way next week.
The Loggers have an assortment of stars that always seem up for the occasion, and even if they were, in their head coach’s words, “a little off” on Saturday, they were never in any real danger of losing.
For the second straight game, they took an early lead on what would prove to be the winning goal just a couple of minutes in.
And for the second straight game, they were then held in check for a large portion of the game after that.
In Wednesday’s tourney semifinal, St. Bernard’s used a defensive system to frustrate the Loggers, whereas the Huskies were able to do while still playing an open attack-minded system.
But it wasn’t enough.
Eureka seniors Olivia Stone and Athena Miller were consistently dangerous in possession, and while they failed to add to their early tally until well into the second half, they never appeared too far from doing so.
The two standout seniors have been instrumental in the Loggers’ success all season, and between them have been involved in the majority of the team’s 100 goals, with 48 goals and 34 assists combined.
But they’re not alone, and on Saturday, it was sophomore Klayre Barres who looked like the home team’s most dangerous player.
Barres, who scored the opening goal, has grown into one of the top players in the H-DNL this season, and is an ever-dangerous threat in possession.
She came close to adding to Eureka’s tally twice early in the second half, including a blistering shot that went just inches wide of the far post after a breakaway down the right wing.
It was no surprise to see her find the back of the net a second time just a few minutes later, receiving a pass from Stone at the edge of the box and making no mistake with another pacy shot for her 17th goal of the season.
Miller made it 3-0 less than a minute later with a high looping shot that sailed over Fortuna keeper Arlette Cruz’s reach.
Aquena Tolfeson also had an assist on the opening goal, and gives the Loggers another dynamic offensive threat heading into the playoffs.
But while the Eureka offense has been rolling over opponents all season, the team defense has been arguably even more impressive, posting 15 shutouts in 16 games.
The unit has been anchored by center backs Keylei Carroll and Grace Plessinger all season, and continued to impress against the Huskies, who created few quality chances.
The Huskies, who were missing three starters due to other commitments, had several standout performances of their own.
At the back, Lauren Tindall anchored a disciplined defense, alongside Aubrey Hall, as the Huskies were forced to play players out of position, something that cost them on the early goal.
Sarah Hohman also had some timely interceptions on the right side, while in midfield Giselle Cruz and Nyah Cacren competed well, with Cacren one of the Huskies’ most consistently creative players.
“Overall, I was very happy,” O’Neil said. “I think the girls that played stood up and played hard. I was real happy with the fact they didn’t give up and they played form start to finish.”
Arlette Cruz was kept on her toes in goal for Fortuna, but was up to the challenge and turned in a solid performance.
A knee injury to Makayla McKnight didn’t help matters for the Huskies, and O’Neil is hoping the senior will be fit to play in time for the NCS playoffs.
The Huskies, who dropped to 13-4-1, are currently ranked No. 3 in the NCS, and may also receive a first-round bye when the postseason field is announced on Sunday.