You only have to look at the Final Four results for all four conferences in the girls’ state soccer tournament to understand what a cluster bomb has gone off in the 6A conference, the state’s top division.
In the 3A, 4A, and 5A semifinals taking place this week, the four teams still alive in each are those you would expect to find still playing for a right to this year’s state title. The #1, #2, #3, and #4 seeds fill those bracket slots. Kudos to the selection committee that set the seedings.
But that’s far from the case in 6A. The No. 1 seed, Hamilton High, was knocked out in the quarterfinals by No. 9 Corona del Sol High School. That was certainly a surprise, but the most stunning upsets came in the first round when No. 3 Millennium High School was blanked, 2-0, in the opening game by No. 14 Chandler High. And No. 4 Desert Mountain High School also lost in the first round, to No. 13 Sandra Day O’Connor High School in a game decided on penalty kicks.
That leaves just No. 2 Xavier Prep vying for a spot in Saturday’s 6A championship game. Xavier will play No. 6 Perry High, and No. 5 Desert Vista will take on Corona in games played at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.
The state tournament results so far in 6A reflect the uncertainty felt all season long due to the parity among many of the better teams in the state at that level. For most observers, however, Xavier’s run through the playoffs wasn’t surprising. The Gators rolled over No. 15 Mountain View High School (Mesa), 8-0, and then climbed over No. 7 Pinnacle High, 3-1, to get to the semis.
Tonight’s 7 p.m. game between Xavier and Perry could be the best match-up of the tournament. Xavier came into the tournament 10-1-3 and unbeaten during in-state competition. The Gators’ only loss was a 1-0 decision to Redondo Union High School, a California team, in a tournament right after Christmas.
Perry came into the playoffs with 19 straight wins after losing its opening game, a 1-0 decision against Desert Mountain. It was Xavier that ended Perry’s win streak when the Gators beat them during Premier Region play, blanking the Pumas, 1-0.
The Pumas finished the regular season 19-2-1, but had to work through two double-overtime games in their last three matches. They had to settle for an 0-0 tie in their 2OT game against Hamilton, the final game of the regular season, and then Chandler took them to double overtime before Perry pulled out the 2-1 victory that put them into the semifinals against Xavier.
Coming into tonight’s game, Xavier has allowed 13 goals and Perry has held opponents to eight.
Perry has been able to take advantage of veteran leadership on defense, most notably senior defender Rachel Wolter and a junior goal keeper in Makayla Aman, who has 26 goals in 21 games played. But the Pumas have also been a force on offense, scoring 134 goals and 131 assists through 24 games, led by junior midfielder Amanda Dahl‘s 36 goals and 23 assists, and senior forward Kiara Parker who has 20 goals and 19 assists.
For Xavier, it’s a sophomore forward leading the offensive assault. Kyla Ferry has collected 18 goals and scored 42 points this season.
It was Ferry leading the way in scoring in the 3-1 quarterfinals victory against Pinnacle High to earn the match-up with Perry. Ferry scored in the 15th minute of the first half and again in the 69th minute to put the Gators up 2-0 before senior Quiqui Hita scored her ninth goal of the season five minutes later to nail down the win.
Hita has been effective so far in the playoffs, contributing three goals during the state tourney. And she will have to be ready to assume that role again tonight because Perry will undoubtedly mark Ferry, using at least a double-team to try to hold her in check.
Tonight’s game marks the 10th time Xavier has advanced to the semifinals in the last 11 seasons.
Corona del Sol (17-6) and Desert Vista (21-3-1) will play the under-card game that begins at 5 p.m. The two teams have met once this season, with Desert Vista winning that Jan. 24 game, 1-0.