Whether you're an individual athlete or whether you're playing on a team, there are times when adversity barges in and sets up shop. Adversity dogged the Wood River High School girls' soccer team this season.
The Wolverines lost one of their toughest defenders, junior Danielle Smith, to a knee injury before the season started. Senior sweeper and aspiring violinist Katie Jensen departed after one game to enhance her musical education out-of-state. Speedy soph Kaitlyn Farrington (knee) was lost for the season.
Hailey coach Greg Gvozdas spent much of what became a successful fall campaign letting his young defense get its legs and build its confidence. Then, two days before last week's State 4A tournament, sophomore keeper Caiti Leo had an appendectomy and was sidelined for the big state trip to Capital Soccer Complex.
After Wood River's 4-2 victory over Hillcrest of Idaho Falls Thursday that assured a top-four finish for the Wolverines, things got worse in a hurry against the highly-regarded Lakeland Hawks in Friday's semi-final game. In a matter of 20 minutes, three key Wolverines were injured.
Northern Idaho champ Lakeland (15-5-1) won 3-0 over Wood River en route to second place in the eight-team tourney with a 2-1 overtime loss to Century of Pocatello (20-0-2) Saturday—Century senior Sunny Katsilometes scoring the winner.
But you have to suffer through the details of what happened to the Wood River players against Lakeland to appreciate what happened in Saturday's tourney finale. And remember, it was a tough state tournament for the four Wood River Valley teams. They won just three of 11 games and were outscored 32-14.
Playing with great determination, the Wolverines dominated the opening minutes against the favored Lakeland squad and had several golden chances—the best a work-up from Brianna Hull-Mullins to Calley Brown that resulted in a Sam Johnson shot that was saved by Hawks keeper Amanda North at 10 minutes.
Just two minutes later, speedy Hawks senior Kayla Stiegemeier flat-out beat the Wolverine defense for the first of her three goals. With minutes ticking away in a 1-0 first half, Brown collided with a teammate and suffered a cut in her forehead that required over 60 stitches and plastic surgery later at the hospital.
The loss of Brown, a sturdy midfielder, deflated the Wolverines and Stiegemeier out-ran the defense two minutes later for a 2-0 lead at half. Stiegemeier made it 3-0 early in the second half, then Wood River sophomore sweeper Michelle McMurdo bashed heads with a Hawks player and broke her nose.
Only seconds later, junior Kacie Femling went down with a sprained ankle in a valiant and successful lunge to prevent Stiegemeier's fourth goal. Team trainer John Koth could hardly keep up with the fallen players.
Gvozdas kept a stiff upper lip despite the disheartening 3-0 loss.
He said afterward, "The first half we played well but just missed some opportunities. Lakeland's #9 (Stiegemeier) had three chances and put them all in the back of the net, despite good marking by Kacie. Our midfield play was strong, and (back) Kallie Skahill and (keeper) Ellen Ard played well. It was a good team effort but we were just unlucky today."
With all the developments, it was understandable that the Wolverines were feeling down and a little sorry for themselves at the start of Saturday's third-place game against Pocatello (14-7-2), a tough-luck 1-0 loser to state champion Century Friday. Wood River had won 3-0 in Hailey and tied the Indians 4-4 earlier.
Brown and Femling didn't play, but sweeper McMurdo gave it the old college try and played most of the game despite her broken nose.
Nonetheless Pocatello jumped out to a 4-0 half-time lead, scoring three goals in the final 10 minutes. Senior Ali Zikratch scored on a free kick at eight minutes, then assisted senior Alysa Adams at 30 minutes. Adams added another goal at 33 minutes and junior Danielle Gordon added insult to injury with a fourth goal.
Gvozdas gave his team a spirited half-time talk. He later recounted, "I felt with all the adversity, we still deserved to go out on a higher note. We're a better team than we showed in the first half, so I challenged the team to end the season well for those who couldn't play, and also for our two seniors on their final day."
The girls took heart and put together one of the most remarkable comebacks anyone had ever seen.
Five minutes into the second half, leading scorer Margii Driscoll frantically chased down a ball to the Indian keeper's left and quickly centered to freshman Sam Johnson, who one-timed it home. Wood River applied constant pressure, out-shooting Pocatello 10-4 after half, but didn't score again until the 67th minute.
Johnson artfully passed the ball through a defender's legs and cranked out a shot, which Driscoll rebounded for a 4-2 game. Driscoll then passed to Johnson, who went top shelf for a 4-3 score at 70 minutes. A very questionable call gave Pocatello a penalty kick made by Zikratch at 72 minutes. Then, a pass by Aimee Evans sent Driscoll ahead against two Indians, and Driscoll scored at 76 minutes for a 5-4 game.
Incredibly, Wood River (15-5-2) nearly tied the game at the final whistle—but a corner kick by Evans that freshman Delaney Fox kicked into the goal for the apparent equalizer was disallowed because Evans' corner had straddled the end line in the air, just out, before curving back into the field of play.
Driscoll (43 goals, 81 career), who scored twice in her final game, said afterward, "We wanted to be more aggressive and catch up and I think we did that. I was happy with the effort, and I do think we'll remember the comeback instead of the loss."
Sobbing after leaving it all on the field, Johnson said about the team's second-half determination, "We wanted to play for our team and our seniors and all the people who were hurt. And even if we lost, we still wanted to play with a lot of heart—and that's what the second half was all about. And we did pretty good."
Coach Gvozdas agreed. "We will remember the comeback. We played with a lot of pride today and with a full team effort, top to bottom. We're certainly losing a high-powered forward in Margii, but Sam Johnson was a huge spark for us in the tournament. We're looking forward to having Sam and all of our younger players return next year."
The team banquet is Nov. 9 at Rico's in Ketchum.
Final WR girls' stats: 15-5-2 overall record (8-1-1 home, 7-4-1 away); first place Great Basin Conference West, second place Great Basin Conference, fourth place with 1-2 record at state. Offense: 105 goals (4.8), second-highest single-season. Defense: 31 goals (1.4).
Individual scoring: Margii Driscoll 43 goals (1-15-22-43 for 81 career, #2 WR career all-time), Sam Johnson 15, Aimee Evans 10, Calley Brown 5, Ellen Ard 5, Kacie Femling 5, Kaitlin Gasenica 4, Brianna Hull-Mullins 4, Nicole Schulz 3, Alexa Turzian 3, Elsa Sweek 2, Kendra Olson 2, Michelle McMurdo 1, Delaney Fox 1, two own goals. Two-year scoring: Driscoll 65 goals (37% of team scoring), Gasenica 10.