By Ray Hamill — Say what you want about the quality of opponents and a diluted pool of teams in the North Coast Section, what the Eureka Loggers have achieved in girls soccer over the past two seasons is remarkable nonetheless.
On Saturday the Loggers will attempt to close out a perfect campaign with an NCS Division-I championship, matching up with old nemesis Arcata at Albee Stadium in the decider.
One way or the other, history will be made, as neither of these teams has ever won an NCS crown before in girls or boys soccer.
It will also be the second straight year a Humboldt-Del Norte League team will win the girls Division-I championship, following in the footsteps in Fortuna last season.
Now, clearly the quality of the bracket has diminished dramatically since many of the Santa Rosa schools and much of the NCS switched to a winter season, something teams in the H-DNL could not do because of the weather and field conditions on the North Coast.
But regardless of that, what the Eureka girls have achieved this season is particularly noteworthy.
This is a team that has now gone 35-1 in its last 36 games, and the only loss was technically a tie, coming in a shootout after overtime in last season’s NCS decider.
During that run, they have now outscored their opponents 185-12, while posting 28 shutouts.
Sure, many of those games are matchups against smaller schools like South Fork, games the Loggers are expected to win, and sizable mismatches, but this is also a group of players that have consistently dominated the likes of Arcata and Fortuna over the past two seasons, teams that are traditionally every bit as competitive as the Loggers.
Despite it’s larger student athlete population, Eureka does not continually dominate in every sport here on the North Coast, and has most certainly not always dominated on the soccer fields the way this current group has.
They are 12-0 against other playoff teams this season, and many of these Eureka players will go on to make their mark in the collegiate game.
They deserve credit for that.
By any standards, they are a standout H-DNL team right now.
Plenty of firepower
Standing in their way on Saturday are the Arcata Tigers, a group of players every bit as eager to make their own history.
On Wednesday, the Tigers knocked off the higher seeded Huskies in Fortuna, a team that had defeated them four times in four matchups this season.
Talk about timing, and never stopping believing in yourself.
The Tigers feature an outstanding midfield and are playing their most complete soccer of the season right now, while riding the momentum of two impressive playoff wins, in which they have outscored their two opponents 8-1.
And they can score, with more firepower that any of Eureka’s other H-DNL opponents, netting 83 goals this season.
They possess at least three sharpshooters in Karina Zumbrun, Nina Crossen and Zakiya Elloway-Wonenberg, each of whom can score from outside the box and are a threat every time they have the ball, as well as Audrey Shelton, who has evolved into an industrious goal poacher, something every championship team needs.
They also possess a quality defense, with the central pairing of Gwyn Stratton and Zoe Leonard a perfect combination.
Stratton the composed, calm influence, who reads the game well, alongside the tenacious Leonard, who apparently never met a tackle she didn’t want to make.
In goal, Skaidra Pulley has become one of the top net minders in the league and has displayed a flair for the spectacular.
The Tigers have not been as dominating as the Loggers this season, and will go into the big showdown as heavy underdogs.
But soccer is a funny game, and sometimes a cruel one.
Because of its low scoring nature, the underdog prevails more often than in many other sports, and sometimes all they need is a disciplined defense and one or two lucky breaks.
The Tigers will create their share of chances, that’s for sure. The question is whether they can defend a very potent Loggers attack.
Favorites for a reason
Which brings us on to the favorites, who are so for a reason.
The Eureka defense has been phenomenal this year, allowing just two goals, while posting shut outs in 35 of the 36 halves of soccer they’ve played.
In goal, first-year senior starter Sadie Wilkinson has been ever-reliable, behind a defensive pairing of Keylei Carroll and Grace Plessinger, as good as any pairing on the North Coast.
But if the defense is good, the Loggers have been even more impressive up front, with a plethora of options.
Seniors Olivia Stone and Athena Miller have been arguably the top two players in league play this year, with sophomores Aquena Tolfeson and Klayre Barres playing way more than just supporting roles.
You could make an argument for the tenacious Barres as the best player in league this year, certainly as the season has progressed.
Junior Maddie Evansizer, among others, has also lifted the level of her game as the season has progressed, and it all gives head coach Andy Salatnay the deepest roster in the area.
But it’s not just that that these players are all individually talented, it’s how effective they play together, with a dynamic understanding of each other’s play.
Saturday night should be fun.
History will unfold, one way or the other.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.