By Jeremy McDonald
SUTHERLIN, Ore.–Four of the juniors on the Stayton’s 2017 squad that’s entering the Play-In game against Sutherlin, were apart of the last Eagle Play-In game as freshman back in 2015 under then-Head Coach Ian Vanderzwan that were going up against a tough Hidden Valley squad that year.
The game did not go in favor of Stayton that day and two-years later, those four now-junior soccer players in Izaland Samuell, Val Navarro, Ariana Aceves and Slivia Gomez found themselves in another Play-In game; this time against Sutherlin.
For Gomez, she remembers that long drive to Grants Pass to that play-in game as her team made a similar drive to the Greater Roseburg-area in 2017.
“I came in really scared because I didn’t know what to expect and that long drive to Hidden Valley and then taking the loss, this long drive I was pretty nervous,” said Gomez as Stayton prepared for this play-in game this year. “I was like, I had a stomach-thing the whole time.”
As they finished warm-ups, did the player introductions and the National Anthem with the sunlight slowly trickling away from the field surrounded by the hills and mountains, Gomez made two saves in the opening 10 or so mintues to work out the nerves.
Aceves and the defensive line kept the Lady Bulldogs off-balance, Samuell from the midfield through KJ Nyquist, Alyssa Smart and Kylie Fisk pushed offensive tempo and aggression for the entire first half. The Lady Eagles had their opportunities to draw the first goal in the opening 40 minutes, but missed the mark.
“We really worked together as a team to get open shots and I think we’re starting to build good team chemistry,” said KJ Nyquist on the offense. “We’re just taking it Day-by-day and game-by-game.”
Older sister Alli too contributed on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball as Stayton came out with the same aggression to start the second half.
Barely three minutes into the second half is when the pay-off happen as first-year soccer player in Smart scored her first-ever goal in the 43rd minute, putting the Lady Eagles up a then- 1-0 over Sutherlin.
“It was really exciting for us to get it, like all as a team because we had so many attempts and then it felt good to get it,” smiled the junior on the goal.
It didn’t take long after Smart’s goal, in the 56th minute to be exact, before KJ Nyquist to struck to put Stayton up 2-0 with 24 minutes remaining in the game.
As they did in the middle part of the first half, after Nyquist’s goal the Lady Bulldogs picked up the tempo and found a few opportunities to try to get back into the game; only to be met by midfielders and defenders and only testing Gomez a handful of times before the Lady Eagles neutralized Sutherlin with ten minutes to go.
“I give all the credit to my team, I didn’t really do much this game,” laughed Gomez. “I took a few shots but it wasn’t anything too special but the team in general looked good. We just have a lot of stuff to work on for our next game.”
When the time expired, there was a few cheers and hugging of teammates in knowing they’ll get to go on to the first round of the playoffs, a nice turnaround from a 2-10-2 season in 2016 to now entering the Field of 16 7-6-1 overall.
Second-year Head Coach Lael Anderson knew it was an entirely new team compare to last year with how few returners they had from last year to this year, so it makes it hard to describe 2016 to 2017 with such a different team.
“It’s really hard to define because you have a such a different group that’s playing,” starts Anderson. “Personality, the identity of the team is completely different than it was last year and there’s not a lot, six returning of 18. So it’s like a first-season for me all over again and we got some fierce competitors, they’re really fun to watch play and they work hard.”
And without a single senior on roster this season, this team is going to be fun to watch for the rest of this season and see them improve entering 2018.
For now though, it’s just a waiting game on who they could face in Round 1 of the playoffs. In the meantime, it’s back to practice to improve and carry this momentum moving forward.
“Just got to keep our intensity that we took in this game is only going to make us better, it’ll help us for the next game,” said Smart.
Gomez, like the other four juniors on the team who were apart of the 5-0 loss to the Lady Mustangs as freshman, pointed out how nice it is in their second-career playoff game to get that elusive first win as they look for a possible number two win on Halloween.
“It’s a big accomplishment and I feel like we showed what we have from our freshman year to our junior year, growing and I think we just keep on growing as a team and especially with the new faces too,” said Gomez.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald