The best stories in any competition are those of the underdog, and this year’s high school state soccer playoffs offer up more than one. Three ‘Cinderella’ teams in the top divisions are still alive as semifinal games this week determine who will be playing for state championships on Saturday.
Chandler High School’s girls’ team represents the biggest underdog story since the No. 15-seeded Wolves have advanced to within one game of a first-ever Division I girls’ state title. In fact, the two playoff games they’ve won so far are the first post-season victories in program history, so this could easily become the story of the tournament.
In order to get this far, the Wolves had to open against the No. 2 seed, Xavier Prep, and then try to get past No. 7 Corona del Sol High School. They scored five goals against Xavier and then posted a 4-3 win over Corona – with both games decided by shootouts.
Julia Byerlein, Chandler’s senior goalkeeper, made two saves in the shootout against Corona and made a save against Xavier before later kicking home the winning penalty kick in that shootout session.
Chandler, which is 9-6-1 on the season, will face its next challenge tomorrow against No. 3 seed Desert Vista High, which got to the semis with a couple of 1-0 wins over No. 6 Chaparral High and No. 14 Ironwood High School.
But the Wolves will have to share the spotlight with a couple of other Cinderellas. The No. 11 seed Campo Verde High School girls knocked off a couple of Tucson teams, No. 6 Sahuaro High and No. 3 Tucson High, to earn their spot in tomorrow’s Division II semiifinal match-up with No. 2 Verrado High. And the San Luis High School boys’ team, also seeded No. 11 in Division II, took down No. 6 Tucson High 2-1 in the opening round and then won a shootout for the 6-5 quarterfinal victory over No. 3 Nogales High.
Chandler’s boys’ team is also still alive after getting past No. 15 Barry Goldwater High School in the quarterfinals, 1-0. And the big story here is not that the 7th-seeded Chandler boys are a Cinderella team, but that there is a potential meeting between the Wolves and their cross-town rival Hamilton High to decide this year’s state champion.
But first, Brophy Prep awaits the Wolves in Thursday’s semifinal game. The No. 3-seeded Broncos have rolled through their first two games, blanking both No. 14 Liberty High (3-0) and No. 11 Sunnyslope High (2-0).
This is Hamilton’s fifth state semifinal game in six years and a win in the title game would be the second in the last four years.
But in order for the Huskies to get into the title game, they first have to find a way to beat 9th-seeded Sandra Day O’Connor High School, which used a 2-1 victory in the quarterfinals to upset the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Alhambra High. Hamilton, which has lost just one game all season, a 2-0 loss to Gilbert High in mid-January, has one of the best teams it has fielded in a long time.
Saturday’s championship game will be played on Valentine’s Day, but if Chandler and Hamilton collide in that contest at Campo Verde, there will definitely not be any love involved.