Vashon girls soccer rockets into playoffs with 14-3-1 record

They played with respect for the game, for themselves, and for their opponent.

The Vashon girls varsity team has powered their way into the state playoffs with a string of impressive victories, ending the regular season 14-3-1.

The Pirates traveled off island to Klahowya, the defending state champs, on the frigid night of Oct. 26.

Oscar Lopez, the Pirates’ intrepid announcer, called it a “David vs Goliath” moment, describing Klahowya as “titanic and a behemoth of unparalleled skill in the district.” Vashon was apparently their iceberg, and shocked them 1-0, handing the Vikings their only league loss of the season.

It was an incredible night of soccer for the Vashon girls with a win that reverberated around the league.

The team followed that with a 3-1 win over Cascade Christian on Oct. 28, in a match that featured a bevy of seniors finishing their high school careers with gusto and dazzling play. In the 29th minute of the first half, Linnea Heuschert sent a masterful corner kick into the scrum in front of the net, finding Kate Spranger’s head rising above the pack to send the ball into the back corner of the net.

Meah Mcinerny fooled the Cascade keeper on a penalty kick, and Mallory Keenan glided a reverse pullback into an empty net to complete the scoring for Vashon.

The Pirates skipped trick or treating on Halloween night Oct. 31 to square off against their perennial nemesis, Bellevue Christian, in the district playoffs. The two teams had met twice before in the regular season, with Vashon losing one game and tying another.

This time, the winner would secure a place in the state playoff tournament.

A sizeable crowd of parents and fans saw Zoe Nowicki, Lillith Provo, Isa Knowler, and Meah Mcinerney build on their impressive resume of shutdown defense protecting keeper Ivy Staczek from any meaningful pressure.

The teams were scoreless when the referee blew his halftime whistle. Coach Nicolino would need to conjure up some words of inspiration, as the Pirates’ play was lackluster and anything but crisp in the first 40 minutes.

Bellevue Christian is a great rival. They play rough and tumble but fair soccer. They show respect for the game as well as their opponent. They play with grace.

With five minutes left and still no score, the Pirates lined up for a set piece.

Olivia Boyes lobbed her kick in from the corner into a mosh pit of players from both squads. The ball careened off the shoulder of a player and past the keeper to the delight of the Vashon faithful. If instant replay was available at the high school level, viewers would have seen that the ball went off a white and blue Bellevue jersey for an “own goal.”

The final minutes were fast and furious, ending with Vashon holding on to a 1-0 victory.

The final game of the season was Nov. 2, when the Pirates played for the district championship against Klahowya. With egos bruised from their previous loss to the Pirates, the Vikings dominated the first half.

Ivy Staczek made several amazing saves while the defense played under unrelenting pressure. The first half ended with Vashon down 0-1.

Soccer can be a very physical and tough sport. The referee has a whistle and a little yellow card that they can use to control things, but the field is large and a lot of physicality goes unseen.

There is physical play, and then there is nasty play that makes the game less fun to watch — and, I’m sure, frustrating to play. Players can use their bodies and forearms to keep players at bay. Occasionally, elbows are extended, which gets called if the ref sees it. Players smash into and trip each other, and players end up on the ground.

Both teams played hard. Both teams were physical. Both teams were aggressive. Both teams fouled their opponent. Both teams wanted the district trophy. One team played the game and the other team with respect. One team didn’t.

Two players got tangled up and fell to the turf. One player offered a hand up to the other, but the gesture was refused and rebuffed.

Two different players ended up on the ground out of bounds to the right of the goal. One of the players kicked the other player off her instead of simply getting back up and back into play.

Two players exchanged elbow jabs. Both were guilty. One player played on. One player flopped and cried out for the ref to call her opponent for a yellow card instead of ending the tit-for-tat there.

Vashon was outscored 0-3. One of the teams got the district championship trophy. The other team traveled back to their island disappointed, but hopefully knowing that they played a better brand of soccer.

They lost on the field, but they won where it mattered. They played with respect for the game, for themselves, and for their opponent.

State playoffs start this week. Go Pirates.

Mike Spranger is the father of a Vashon soccer team athlete.