By Ray Hamill — A Fortuna own goal in injury time gave the Eureka Loggers a third consecutive North Coast Section championship in girls soccer at Albee Stadium on Wednesday night.
An epic final, as exciting and hard-fought as any we’ve seen in recent years, featured a thrilling finish between these two Big 4 rivals, with the Huskies battling back from a one-goal deficit to tie things up just 90 seconds from time on a well-placed Raigan Brooks penalty kick.
But just as we thought we were headed to overtime, a long range Angelina Conant attempt on goal just moments later was deflected into the back of the net to give Eureka a 2-1 victory.
Both sets of players gave it their all in a physical and well-played showdown between the top two fall soccer teams in the NCS and two teams that know each other well.
“I give a lot of credit to Fortuna,” Learmouth said. “They played hard and it speaks to how bad their players wanted it and the quality of players they have and the quality of coaching they have.”
The championship continues what has been a remarkable run in recent years for the Loggers, who have now won four of the past five Division-1 girls section championships, an outstanding achievement even considering how diluted the pool of fall soccer teams in the NCS is.
Under Learmouth’s guidance, the Eureka program continues to thrive.
“If you had told me when I started coaching five years ago we’d have this success I wouldn’t have believed you,” the head coach said. “We have quality players coming in and they buy into the system and are willing to put the work in.”
Conant gave the Loggers a one-goal lead heading into halftime, netting on a long-range shot 90 seconds before the interval to cap a very entertaining first half.
The junior midfielder has enjoyed a breakout season and turned in a player-of-the-game performance, continually fighting for possession and usually making the right decision when she won it.
Check out all three goals from Wednesday’s game below …
“I thought the best player on the field was Angelina Conant,” Learmouth said. “She was spectacular tonight.”
Learmouth also paid tribute to a senior class that left a lasting mark on Eureka High soccer and one that will graduate as the most successful ever in program history.
Most notably, players like Lila Ekholdt, Maia Hales and Ella Tollefson have been outstanding all season long and all three continued to play pivotal roles in the section championship.
“This incredible group of seniors has been through a lot, coming in in COVID, through reeling off three NCS titles,” Learmouth said. “They’ll have success in life.
“It’s just an outstanding senior class. They’ve always been classy, and I seriously cannot thank them enough.”
The Huskies came into the game having lost all three previous meetings with Eureka this season and being outscored 13-0 in those games.
However, this time around they were at full strength going up against the Loggers for the first time and it showed.
Led by the outstanding Taylor Brooks and Allie Cox, the Huskies took the game to their opponents from the opening kickoff and had several chances in what was a wide open and fun game to watch.
The back line of Myra Hayes, Jorlynn Villavazo, Jocelyn Ortega-Miranda and Azucena Aguirre frustrated a very potent Eureka attack and did a good job keeping their team in the game.
Midfielder Brylee Barsanti also had a big game for the visitors, while Raigan Brooks showed nerves of steel to convert the penalty kick in the dying minutes.
“Fortuna gave us trouble with their intensity,” said Learmouth, who described Taylor Brooks as “a deadly forward.”
But the Eureka defense, which has been the best in the H-DNL all season long, was up to the task and came within 90 seconds of posting a fourth shutout against the Huskies.
In particular, Hales and Paige Rodgers anchored the unit and were composed under pressure all night.
“Paige and Maia were on their game tonight,” the Eureka coach added.
We’ll have much more on Wednesday’s thrilling season finale on Thursday, including plenty of video highlights from an intense finish.
In other NCS soccer on Wednesday, the Fortuna boys fell 3-0 at Making Waves in the boys Division-1 semifinal.