Arcata girls crowned league champs after another epic battle

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Action from Wednesday’s game.

By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers have been the team to beat in H-DNL girls soccer this season and that continues to be the case.

On Wednesday night, the Tigers remained unbeaten with a hard-fought 2-0 win at Eureka, a victory that guarantees them at least a share of this year’s Big 5 championship.

The conference title is the program’s first since 2016 and the Arcata girls can claim it outright with a victory in either of their final two games, at Del Norte on Saturday and at home to McKinleyville next week.

“That was really a team win for the girls,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said. “They all stepped up.”

The Tigers enjoyed stellar performances all over the field, most notably from the three Macdonald sisters — Annie, Tildy and Soqui — as well as the always dangerous Zoe Macknicki.

And they needed that against a deep Eureka team that has lost just twice this season — both times to Arcata — and a team that pushed the league champs all the way.

Games between these two great rivals rarely disappoint.

“I thought it was a good game,” Eureka head coach Tommy Learmouth said. “I thought our girls came out and performed, and even when the scoreboard wasn’t in our favor we played well.”

The Tigers’ experience probably made the difference, with a core group of seniors all playing a key role, while a younger Eureka roster features just one senior.

Macknicki opened the scoring 12 minutes before halftime on a long range shot that slipped past Eureka goalie Claire Maples, with Gabby Davidson setting up the opportunity.

Kyla Berman added the second goal 12 minutes into the second half, breaking onto a through ball from Macknicki before netting with a composed finish.

That was all the Tigers would need with another disciplined defensive performance, anchored by defensive midfielder Tildy Macdonald, who, in her coach’s words, “always plays at the top of her game.”

Out wide, her sisters Soqui and Annie were just as effective helping to contain a deep pool of talented young Loggers, while also keeping the Eureka defense honest when the Tigers pushed forward.

“It was truly a team effort,” Stranahan said. “We really focused on passing this week and it really showed. Their passing was much more accurate.”

More impressively, that stellar passing came in the face of pressure, with so much on the line in this game.

The Loggers had their chances, most notably when the ever-dangerous Lila Ekholdt was on the ball, but were unable to capitalize, in part because of their finishing and in part because of another brilliant performance from Arcata goalkeeper Seri Welsh.

Welsh read the game to perfection and timed her runs to deny the Eureka through balls time after time.

She also had some fantastic stops at the feet of advancing strikers, most notably on Ekholdt, after the Eureka sophomore had broken through the defense for a one-on-one attempt midway through the second half.

“Their goalie played outstanding,” Learmouth said. “And we struggled to finish.”

Stranahan also appreciated his goalie’s efforts.

“Every time she read it perfectly,” he said. “And she cleared the back line too.”

Maples also had a good game between the posts for Eureka, as did her defense, with strong performances by Maia Hales, Saedra Joseph, Amelia Staino and lone senior Payton Goodman, who was honored before the game.

In midfield, the industrious Angelina Conant impressed again for the Loggers, as did Jordan Brown out wide and Kira Morris up front.

Defenders Rogue Russell and Quin Rush-Cople both also played well for Arcata in front of Welsh, while Alia Prentiss caused plenty of problems in midfield.

“Props to Eureka,” Stranahan said. “It was one of our classic battles and I’m just happy we were able to come out on top.”

There was certainly little to separate these two great teams once again.

“They finished their chances,” Learmouth said of Arcata. “They rose to the occasion and put their chances away.”

The Loggers are now 7-2-2 in the Big 5 and will close out at Fortuna next week.

The Tigers are now 8-0-2.

The two rivals came into Wednesday’s game as the top two ranked fall soccer teams in the North Coast Section and they could very well meet again in the postseason.

“I’m hoping too,” Learmouth said.

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