Issaquah, Skyline in familiar territory | Prep sports feature

Friends, rivals lead local prep soccer squads to state's final weekend.

Every year except one since 2002, either Issaquah or Skyline have made the state semifinals in girls soccer. In 2006 and 2009, were both still playing on the tournament’s final weekend.

In 2012, it will be more of the same.

Issaquah will continue its march toward the first 4A state title in program when it meets Camas in one semi-final at 6 p.m and it will be the Spartans taking on Tahoma in the nightcap for the second spot in Saturday’s championship game at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium.

Eagles head coach Tom Bunnell said after watching his team survive a stretch of five postseason games in eight days, including three win-or-go-home matches before even reaching state, anything is possible.

“They just maintained,” he said. “That’s a tough thing to do and teams don’t get through that.”

With last year’s conference player of the year in Audrey Thomas returning for Issaquah and the Spartans being forced to contend with the graduation of a number of its key contributors, the Eagles seemed the more logical choice for a late season run.

But a dominant defense and the emergence of a new class of stars kept Skyline unbeaten in the regular season and sporting a 15-1-3 record heading into the state tournament’s final two days.

Issaquah has only fallen twice, to Woodinville and eventual conference champion Redmond, and like Skyline boasts wins over top out-of-state competition as well as the some of the best the Washington prep scene has to offer. Thomas has been the catalyst again on the attack, with a team-high 16 goals and 43 points. Rachel Wheeler (10 goals, 12 assists) and Annie Hoffman (nine goals, five assists) have also played an integral role.

An injury in the quarterfinal win will sideline Wheeler, a University of Kentucky commit, for the remainder of the playoffs and Thomas also left that game injured. Bunnell said she brings not only a dynamic skill set and invaluable experience, but undeniable leadership qualities that have helped galvanize the team.

“She’s a fantastic leader and does it by example,” he said. “She isn’t the loudest, but she’s organized, on time, happy and puts forth an effort.” It has been a balanced effort from Skyline on the offensive end, with Anna Deweirdt (seven goals, five assists) and Rachel Shim (nine goals) leading the way and seven other players with two or more goals on the year. The trio of Jaeden Chew, Emily Baril and Sydney Martinez have done the job on the back end, recording nine shutouts on the year including last week’s tournament win over Puyallup.

From 2004-07, Issaquah won three 3A state titles and made four consecutive trips to the championship match. But the balance of power has shifted since 2008, when Skyline has been atop Class 4A and taken three of four championships, including in 2009 with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Eagles. The Eagles have three times been the state runner-up in 4A, in 1986, 1988 and 2009, and were one win from their first 4A crown three years ago before Braman and the Spartans got in the way.

Bunnell and Braman have known one another since 1984 and have remained close over the years, even after accepting positions at rival school. Bunnell even helps coach Braman’s son who is an aspiring goalie.

Bunnell said meeting in either the title match or third-place game would be difficult given their history together, the rivalry between the schools and the stakes of a state title.

“Deep down inside, you have to stand your ground with your school,” Bunnell said. “But you kind of want the best for the other guy, even if it hurts to say it.”

Issaquah coach Tom Bunnell and Skyline coach Don Braman know one another’s programs well, and have a relationship away from the field as well. COURTESY PHOTO, DON BORIN STOP ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY

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