Stunning loss in Division II opens state soccer playoffs

That loud thud that came rolling down from the Arizona high country Wednesday night was the sound of the Flagstaff High School girls’ soccer team falling in the first round of the state playoffs.

The 2-1 upset of unbeaten Flagstaff by No. 15 Sabino High School, combined with an emotional overtime win by Notre Dame Prep following the death of its former coach, filled the tournament’s opening round of Division II play with high drama.

And the irony of the Flagstaff upset was that the Eagles lost to the very weapon that enabled them to win last year’s 4A-II state title and stay unbeaten this season… the penalty kick.

Flagstaff won last year’s state championship on a penalty kick, and then just a little more than a week ago was able to get past Cottonwood’s Mingus Union High School, also unbeaten, on the final penalty kick by Ashley Christopher after double overtime couldn’t determine a winner.

Again, the Eagles played to double overtime against Sabino, as Addison Brown scored for Sabino and Teryn Brandel tied it at 1-1, before resorting to the shootout.  Flagstaff had been stunned early when Brown scored off a throw-in by Shannon Shields just 30 seconds into the game.

Flagstaff was ranked No. 2 in Division II power points and had given up just four goals all season.  But this season, because of the AIA’s new alignments into divisions and sections, the Eagles would be facing bigger schools than they had in past playoffs.

But despite taking on a larger school in Tucson’s Sabino, the Eagles seemed to have the advantages.  They were playing at home, so no excuses about a long bus ride, and Sabino had to adapt to the thinner mountain air that the Flagstaff girls train in all season.

The equalizer, once again, proved to be the penalty kick.

And, while it wasn’t a PK that secured the Notre Dame win against Thunderbird High from Phoenix, that game also went into overtime until Kylee Bankofier let loose with a shot from 20 yards out to pocket her first goal and win the game in the 96th minute.

Madison Reisdorf scored first for the Scottsdale school and Michelle Mahoney brought Thunderbird back to a 1-1 tie, which is where it ended in regulation.

It was just a game between two middle-of-the-pack teams.  Notre Dame was ranked No. 8 and Thunderbird No. 9.  But there was a lot more riding on the outcome that appeared on the surface, since the Saints were playing the season to honor their fallen coach.

Scott Bemis, who took the girls soccer team to a state championship (and the football team to two more), was not on the sidelines this year.  He lost his fight with cancer a week ago.

The next game, however, gets even harder.  Notre Dame will take on No. 1 Cactus Shadows High School from Cave Creek in a Saturday afternoon match-up.