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Lady Grizzlies win 2B state soccer title: Bear Creek defeats Napavine, 1-0, in thrilling shootout | Slideshow
A giant celebration erupted Saturday at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium after The Bear Creek School girls' soccer team realized they had won the program's first 2B state championship.
The energy at the stadium was filled with so much excitement, one would have thought the Grizzlies had just won the Major League Soccer championship.
The ecstatic Grizzlies more than made up for 90 minutes of near-misses and frustration in the title game, which ended in a 0-0 tie at the end of regulation, by outscoring the Napavine Tigers in penalty kicks, 3-1.
When the Tigers' desperation kick to stay alive sailed wide of the net, the packed Grizzlies' side of the stands erupted, and the white-clad Grizzly athletes jumped into each others' arms and shed tears of joy.
"(After) I was told it's the first time we've made it to the final four, to win the semis and then win state, it's such a great feeling," said first-year head coach Brandon Gonzalez. "I knew, with them, we could make something happen. And we did."
FIRST TIME'S THE CHARM
Before the weekend began, the Bear Creek girls' team had never even been to the state semifinals.
Playing at a big stadium like Sunset in front of hundreds of fans was uncharted territory for Gonzalez's squad, but if there were any nerves heading into the championship game, they certainly didn't show it.
Bear Creek dominated time of possession in the first half, not even allowing the Tigers a shot on goal, while winning a majority of the one-on-one battles for the ball.
Although the Grizzlies had a number of opportunities, the Tigers' defense and goalkeeper Sami Taylor prevented any shots from reaching the back of the net.
Taylor recorded nine saves for the game, including seven in the second half.
"We just couldn't finish," said Gonzalez on his team's offensive woes. "Defensively we did well, I think they only had two or three shots on goal at the most."
Grizzly sweeper Brittany DiGenova (right), who was red-carded during the team's state opener and had to sit out in the semifinals, came up with a key stop on defense in the 48th minute that looked to be a golden opportunity for Napavine. And later in the game, keeper Shannon Abbott had a huge save in the first overtime period to force the penalty-kick shootout.
Bear Creek began the pressure-packed shootout ominously, as Caroline Bridgwater's shot glanced off the side bar for a miss, and Tiger senior Samantha May got one by Kristina Engelstone, who stepped in goal just for the shootout.
"It was really discouraging because I hadn't played goal in a really long time," Engelstone said on giving up that first goal. "I got lots of emotions when (Gonzalez) told me I was going into goal, but my teammates were there for me and they told me everything was going to be okay."
Midfielder Karin Diamond got the Grizzlies on the board on their next kick, and the Tigers got a bad break of their own as their next shot rattled off the crossbar.
The turning point in the shootout was an incredible save by Engelstone on the Tigers' third kick, where she dove to the left on instinct and swatted the ball away just in time.
"I just picked a side, and went with my gut," she said. "Thankfully, I was right."
With the Tigers missing on their next two attempts, the Grizzlies came up big as senior Morgan Rial and Abbott, the keeper during regulation, scored on their kicks to seal the victory.
"At first, we were like, 'wait, did we just win?' recalled Rial upon seeing Napavine's final kick miss to the right. "Then we were all screaming and going crazy. I have to keep telling myself we're state champs, it's just unbelievable."
Added Engelstone on what gave her the ability to stay calm and confident as the shootout goalie with the championship on the line: "My teammates, my family, all the people supporting us, and God."
Bear Creek could have easily been seen as the underdog heading into the title game against the Tigers, who had reached the championship game in each of the last two years.
The Grizzlies had to overcome a number of hardships over the course of the season, including DiGenova's untimely red card, and an injury bug that bit the team hard.
The team's already shorthanded roster got whittled down to the point where only one or two subs were sitting on the bench.
"It was just one obstacle after another," Rial said. "But we knew we were a tight team, a family, and we knew we'd get through it."
The injuries also sparked what turned out to be a critical change at the goalkeeper position, as Engelstone, who started the season in goal, moved to the field as a defensive anchor while Abbott, relatively new to the position, took her place in the net.
"She did well, she stepped up," Gonzalez said of Abbott's efforts. "But Kristina has that goalie instinct that we needed in a situation like (the shootout), and she came up big."
While eight of the Grizzlies' 14 rostered players are freshmen or sophomores, which bodes well for the program's future, the first-year coach had nothing but great things to say about the team's four departing seniors – team co-captains Rial and Danielle Isbell, Abbott, and midfielder Halle Coleman.
"They're great leaders on and off the field," said Gonzalez, who most recently served as an assistant soccer coach for Lindbergh High in Renton. "Morgan's an all-team player, we couldn't have been where we were today without her, or Danielle."
Rial, having lettered in all four years of her prep soccer career, said that the girls knew that it was their last game together, and simply gave it all they had in the final match.
In the end, they got rewarded.
"It's the best way to end the season, the best way to end my career in soccer – just awesome," said Rial, who was named the Reporter's 2010-11 Female Athlete of the Year last June. "It's been a great season and we've put so much hard work in. We totally deserved it, and we knew we could win it."
All photos courtesy of Sini Fernandez