The state playoffs are always the biggest story of the year in any high school sport, and there always seems to be one game that stands out and will be remembered for years to come. This year’s soccer story in Arizona has to belong to the Verrado High School girls’ team in Division II of the large-school competition .
Verrado did what no school in that division has been able to do for the past four years. It wrested the state crown from Catalina Foothills High School, which has won eight state titles in the last 11 years – and the underdog Verrado did it in the first year of moving up a level from Division III.
There were some other good stories taking place over the weekend, despite the fact that they have become sidebars to the feature article about the Vipers from Buckeye.
In Division III, Coronado High School finally won its state title after losing in the championship match the last two years – and they did it with a new coach. The Dons beat No. 13-seeded Northwest Christian, the ‘Cinderella’ of the playoffs, 3-1, to end their improbable run to the title. On the girls side in D-III, Fountain Hills High School won its first-ever girls’ state soccer title by wrapping up a 20-3-1 season record with a 2-0 victory over Seton Catholic in Friday’s championship game.
Tucson High won the Division II boys’ title in that school’s first-ever trip to the state finals by beating Copper Canyon High School after going undefeated through the regular season. The 3-0 title victory Saturday over the Aztecs, who had a 20-win season, marked Tucson’s first year playing in Division II after moving down from D-I.
And at the top, the Pinnacle High School girls’ team won their Division I state title, thanks to a player who hadn’t scored a goal all year – and did it off a missed goal by a teammate. Kayla Fleming used a rebound off the goal post to punch in the lone score and give the Pioneers the 1-0 win over Perry High.
On the boys’s side, the D-I championship was decided on penalty kicks when junior Fergus Shanks claimed the 1-0 victory for Brophy Prep with the deciding kick. The Broncos prevailed in the much-anticipated meeting of the top two teams in the state, beating Hamilton High in the third state finals match-up in the last five years between the two soccer powers.
But back to the story of the playoffs… which the Verrado girls also capped off by winning its title on penalty kicks.
No. 2-seeded Verrado had to get past a very good 19-win Flagstaff High team in the semifinals, which it did by scoring in both halves to wrap up a 2-0 victory. But Flagstaff was just a good test for the real challenge that awaited in the title game, when they met No. 1 Catalina Foothills, who had lost just two games all season and were heavily favored to win it all again for the fifth consecutive year.
And the Vipers got just what they were expecting. Foothills controlled the game from start to finish, despite playing without its top scorer, Aminah Settles, who was out with a knee injury. The Falcons from Tucson pounded the goal box, out-shooting Verrado by an astonishing advantage of 22-1. But an incredible effort by Viper goal keeper Shea Smith, that included nine saves, kept the defending champs at bay long enough to get to overtime.
This unbelievable story came to its fairytale end when junior midfielder Taylor Desanti broke a 3-3 tie during the penalty kick portion of the game by placing a shot into the left corner of the net, just past the outstretched arm of goalie Sam Weisband. Up to that winning kick, Foothills had the advantage all the way through the penalty kicks, keeping intense pressure on Verrado through 110 minutes of play.
This state title is special because it’s the first-ever in girls soccer for Verrado – actually the first-ever in any sport for the seven-year-old high school. But it will be remembered for more than just the trophy the girls brought home.
But who’s going to believe this story 10 years from now? You just had to be there.