By Ray Hamill — This time around, the Eureka girls would not be denied.
After losing last season’s North Coast Section championship on a penalty shootout, the Loggers made sure there would be no letdown this year, clinching the crown with a comfortable if not dominating 4-1 win over Arcata.
It was the first ever NCS championship for the school in soccer, boys or girls, and had a sense of inevitability about it for some time in a season in which the Eureka girls dominated everyone in their path.
“I’m proud to be a part of this organization,” said Eureka head coach Andy Salatnay, who was coaching his final game with the team after four years in charge. “We didn’t have one person that stood out from the team, everybody did their part in raising Eureka high school to a higher level.”
It was most certainly a team effort all season for the Loggers. It has to be when you win all 19 of your games, while outscoring your opponents 111-3 along the way.
It was a fitting way for the seniors to close out their careers after most of them were involved in last season’s NCS disappointment, when Fortuna pipped them to the title, the Humboldt-Del Norte League’s first ever in Division-I soccer.
This time, however, the top seeds didn’t let it go to a shootout, or even overtime, taking care of things in a businesslike fashion and never appearing in danger of losing.
The Loggers got goals from Grace Plessinger, Klayre Barres, Aquena Tolfeson and Olivia Stone, three of them in the second half as the No. 3 seed Tigers pushed them all the way.
“They did everything I asked them to do,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said of his team, which became just the second to score on the champions all season. “They played from whistle to whistle. There was no quit in any of them. My girls gave Eureka everything they could handle.”
Zakiya Ellowoy-Wonenberg netted from close range nine minutes into the second half to pull the Tigers within 2-1 and it gave the underdogs a noticeable lift.
For much of the second half, they matched the Loggers for possession and creativity, giving Eureka goalkeeper Sadie Wilkinson and her defense their busiest game of the season.
Plessinger opened the scoring in the eighth minute, striking from 26 yards out to give the Loggers an early lead.
It’s something the Loggers have become accustomed to in a season in which they never once trailed.
Eureka made it 2-0 early in the second half after starting the period the more dangerous of the two teams, scoring on a wonderful move that saw senior Athena Miller carve open the Arcata defense with a perfect pass down the middle for Barres to run on to, and the sophomore standout made no mistake with a well-placed shot low and past the onrushing keeper.
The Tigers tied things up six minutes later on Elloway-Wonenberg’s goal and began to settle into the game more, creating several worthwhile moves, with seniors Karina Zumbrun and Nina Crossen as dangerous as ever.
Midway through the half, however, the Loggers scored again on a wonderful strike from Tolfeson, who netted from a wide angle outside the box, with her looping shot slipping through the keeper’s grasp.
It all but ended the game as a contest, and you could sense there was no way back for the Tigers, who now needed to score twice against a Eureka defense that had allowed just two goals in 18 previous games.
Stone closed out the scoring from the penalty spot with just under 10 minutes remaining to end any chance of a dramatic comeback, but the Arcata players continued to battle nonetheless.
The loss ends a memorable year for the Tigers, who grew stronger as the season progressed and were playing their best soccer at the end.
“We were in an NCS final, how could I not be happy,” Stranahan said. “They earned the right be here.”
The night, however, belonged to the Loggers, the 2018 NCS champions.
“Our ladies came out strong and we hung in there together,” Salatnay said. “Every single one of them persevered, and every time we made a mistake, we came back stronger.”
For the seniors, Stone, Miller, Wilkinson, Alivia Anderson and Hannah Taylor, it was a particularly gratifying win.