The road back to the state semi-finals has been anything but smooth for the Issaquah girls soccer team.
Three straight losses put the Eagles in a loser-out game not a month after they had been tied for the conference lead, a pair of those coming to rival Skyline.
But a month later, and after a dramatic win over the Spartans in penalty kicks, coach Tom Bunnell and his team find themselves once again among the final four teams in the state and are set to face Olympia at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup for a spot in the title game.
“I think they are excited about proving they deserve to be where they are,” Bunnell said. “There is an expectation and they live up to it.”
Two straight losses to rival Skyline ended Issaquah’s hopes of capturing a KingCo championship. Another to Inglemoor meant it was win-or-go-home in the next game against Kamiak.
Senior captain Juliana da Cruz said despite the setbacks, the team found itself working harder than ever with the idea of redefining their season.
“We found out how much we can really dig deep and find that passion,” she said. “We learned what we needed to work on and those practices were really sharp.”
The confidence and perseverance paid off in one of the biggest ways possible Saturday, when the Eagles erased a 1-0 Skyline lead in the second half before winning 5-4 in penalty kicks to keep their season alive and return the favor to a group of Spartans that beat them in last year’s title game.
But as satisfying as the win was, Bunnell said there are no misconceptions about the ultimate goal for the season, one that now lies only two wins away. “That game has to go behind us and just be a fond memory,” he said. “I’m positive they can deal with that.”
Olympia had a similarly dramatic win in its quarterfinal game, beating Inglemoor in a shootout to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1995 and the first time ever in Class 4A.
Conversely, Issaquah takes a wealth of experience south for the final two rounds of the tournament, having reached the championship match last year after taking a similar route through the postseason.
“It helps a lot, that whole piece of having been there before,” Bunnell said. “Enjoy it, but really have a mindset of being there to work.”
The state title game is set for Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. back at Sparks Stadium, with the third-place game scheduled for noon.