With some teams, it takes four or five games. Other teams never find the teamwork and communication needed to win at crucial moments.
For the Wood River High School girls' varsity soccer team, finding a way to win went down to the wire.
Coach Jenni Conrad's Wood River Wolverines, supporting each other in season-best form for 90 minutes, got a goal from senior Erin Murphy near the end of the first 10-minute overtime period to beat Skyview of Nampa 1-0 Saturday at Sunway Soccer Complex in Twin Falls.
The outcome of the state play-in game between Great Basin Conference runner-up Wood River (13-3-2) and Boise-area third-place finisher Skyview (14-5-2) put the Wolverines into the state soccer tournament for the 17th consecutive year.
Two freshmen provided the key that helped Murphy unlock the state door with her third goal of 2011. Brigette Thomas made a throw-in that Samantha Sutton gathered and passed with her deft touch to Murphy.
Senior goalkeeper Cheyenne Swanson (10 saves) did the rest with her 10th shutout in Wood River's 18 games.
It was fitting that Murphy scored the winner, since she was one of the hardest workers and best players in all three Wood River tournament games last week. Conrad said, "Erin works hard for every single ball. She could be my MVP nearly every game. And she's such a positive role model.
"I moved Erin from her normal outside position into the middle of the field for the second half of the Skyview game. We got to overtime, and she asked me if I still wanted her there. I said yes, you're doing great. Then she scored 9:36 into overtime."
Fitness was important for both teams—Skyview in particular playing its fourth game in five days, and Wood River playing its third game in the five-day tournament stretch.
"It was our best game of the season," said Conrad.
Her Wolverines lost to Twin Falls 4-0 last Tuesday and beat Jerome 3-0 Thursday. Skyview's Hawks were upset by 2-1 Kuna Tuesday, then stayed alive 4-2 and 1-0 over Caldwell and Middleton on Wednesday and Thursday.
Conrad said, "I thought we had a little more gas in the tank at the end.
"The girls found each other, supported each other, communicated well and worked hard. It was a big maturing experience. Our younger girls really stepped up and the whole team realized they could do it when they had to—if they put their minds to it.
"We definitely had a consistent attack all game and had some great looks. We'd just miss by a few inches, but getting that close empowered our girls. Skyview was on its heels in overtime, and I think our girls just pushed through it and recognized they could get that goal. It was definitely a slow-motion sequence, but we were all happy when it went in."
Wood River, eliminated by Skyview 3-1 in the third-place game of last year's State 4A tourney at Post Falls High, will open the 2011 State 4A tournament Thursday, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. against 6th District champ Hillcrest of Idaho Falls (16-0-0) at Brothers Field, Caldwell.
"I liked how we played against Skyview, going a little more defensively with a 4-5-1, stopping the middle, staying at home and trusting our teammates to play their correct positions and keep the team shape. So we'll probably stick with it against Hillcrest and see how it goes," Conrad said.
At state, only Madison of Rexburg (10-5-1) is a new team in a field of seven returning squads from the 2010 tourney.
On one side of the bracket are Twin Falls (11-2-2) vs. Kuna (13-4-2) and Sandpoint (5-8-5) vs. Madison. On the other, tougher side are reigning state champion Bishop Kelly of Boise (19-0-0) vs. Century of Pocatello, and Wood River vs. Hillcrest.
Bishop Kelly has won three state titles in four years. Only Bishop Kelly (3), Sandpoint (5) and Century (3) have won State 4A titles since 2000.
Hillcrest also was unbeaten and played Wood River in the first state game last year, but the Wolverines won 3-2. All time, Wood River is 5-2-2 in games against Hillcrest including 3-1-0 in the state tournament.
In Thursday's loser-out GBC tournament game in Hailey, Wood River out-shot a much-improved Jerome team (6-9-2) by a 16-2 margin, and 19-2 in corner kicks. Senior Sloan Storey (22 goals) scored twice and senior Lucy Paisley tallied her second goal in the 3-0 victory.
Storey's first goal giving Wood River a 1-0 halftime lead was a pretty header on a Murphy cross. Paisley buried a 24-yard shot at 63 minutes. Storey connected from just inside the box after a Thomas feed.