HILLSBORO – Forty-one (41) years of playing soccer and Marist Catholic had never won its final playoff game.
Until Saturday that is, when the Spartans dominated start to finish to capture its first state championship, 4-0, over Hidden Valley at the OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union Girls 4A Soccer State Championship at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
Marist Catholic finished 18-1 on the season, a program record for wins.
“18-1 is an historical season,” said head coach Stefan Schroffner. “They’re the winningest team in Marist soccer history.”
The Spartans, who lost only to 5A North Eugene, played perhaps the most demanding schedule in 4A. It included 3A champion Valley Catholic (a 3-0 win), several top 4A teams and strong 5A teams Springfield and Churchill. They finished the season with seven straight shutouts (15 overall) and their playoff run featured wins over Philomath, No. 4 in the final OSAAtoday Coaches Poll, in the quarterfinals; No. 3 North Marion in the semifinals; and No. 7 Hidden Valley, for the second time this season, in the championship match. Marist Catholic won the regular-season match, 2-0, in mid-September.
“It showed our quality, how tough our defense is, and our ability to score,” Schroffner noted.
And yet, had you told Schroffner that this was the year Marist Catholic would finally break through and win a state championship, he would not have believed you. The Spartans graduated eight all-league seniors from a year ago – that team lost in the quarterfinals to Gladstone – and their roster of 22 had 17 freshmen and sophomores on it.
“We persevered,” he said. “They’re young and fearless, with great leadership from their three captains.”
Those three captains, senior Paige Meador, senior Sela Freeman and junior Cloe Chase, combined for all four goals and the only assist in the match.
“They did an amazing job driving this team forward, keeping them hungry and keeping us accountable,” Schroffner said.
Hidden Valley (12-3-1) was playing in its second consecutive state final. The Mustangs lost on penalty kicks, 7-6, last year after being tied at 0-0 through regulation play and overtime last year.
Like Marist Catholic, Hidden Valley was a longshot to return to state, after also graduating eight impact players. The Mustangs made the final despite having no JV teams and only 18 players, total, in their program.
“Our squad was split 50-50 between experienced and less-experienced players,” said coach Dennis Hart. “We just went to work. I expected us to make the playoffs; I just didn’t know how we’d do thereafter.”
Hart knew that beating Marist on Saturday was going to be a tall order. Asked before the match what Hidden Valley needed to do to win state, he answered this way:
“Play a perfect soccer match, which means when we walk off the pitch, we can all look into one another’s eyes and say we competed for every inch of ground and gave everything we had in that match. That’s a win for us.”
For almost the first 30 minutes, Hidden Valley did exactly that. The Mustangs battled Marist Catholic in a start played largely in the middle of the field. Schroffner thought Hidden Valley might play conservatively, hoping to get to overtime and PKs, to counterbalance Marist Catholic’s dynamic offense, which came in averaging 4.5 goals per game.
Marist got nice work from Freeman, Chase, Ava Snyder and Ella Braunger in those first 30 minutes.
In the fourth minute, Freeman showed great vision in trying to spring a teammate with a through ball, but it was deflected just enough by Hidden Valley in the midfield area. In the eighth minute, Snyder made a long run, but didn’t have the legs to complete the play with a strong cross. In the 23rd minute, a cross by Mattie Andrus was stopped confidently by Hidden Valley freshman keeper Harley Hipps. Four minutes later, Chase sent a nice ball to Freeman but Hipps got to the ball first to prevent a certain scoring opportunity.
Several Hidden Valley players stood out in that stretch along with Hipps, none more so than sophomore Gracelyn DaVault, who got a head on a cross in the ninth minute, but saw it finish over the crossbar. Riley Yunker also was solid, using her speed to create chances on the wings.
In the 30th minute, Marist Catholic finally broke through. Chase, who had scored 26 goals on the season and at least one goal in every match she’d play this year, took a pass from Meador in the box left of the goal. The ultra-athletic junior, a University of Oregon recruit, settled it with her chest, then volleyed it to herself to create space before finishing with a flick past Hipps into the lower right corner of the net.
“If Cloe’s open I find Cloe,” Meador said. “I know she scores; she’s a goal machine.”
“The goal kind of came out of nowhere to be honest,” Chase added. “I trusted my other captains to feed me the ball. I was in an awkward position at the front post, but I knew I had to put it in and hit it with the outside of my right foot and it went straight to the right side netting. It felt so rewarding. I was ecstatic that we got on the board first and I was able to contribute to the team win.”
Down a goal, Hidden Valley immediately got to work on tying up the match. DaVault came close with a free kick over the crossbar. Two minutes later, another DaVault free kick was deflected wide of the goal by Marist Catholic’s freshman goalie, Emily Meigs. Gabrielle Heverly’s ensuing corner kick found the head of Hannah Rommes but she could only head it over the goal.
Marist Catholic, which outshot Hidden Valley, 5-3, in the first half, ramped up its pressure right from the start of the second half. That pressure paid off early, when Freeman got the ball to Chase in a position to attack. Hidden Valley had little choice but to foul. Freeman converted the penalty kick low and left, giving Marist Catholic a huge second goal.
“We were a little overmatched when it came to Marist’s physical capabilities and speed,” Hart said. “We hung on well. They broke through and it took a little air out of our sails. We had a short bench -- we were a little dinged – and that made it a little bit of a hill to climb.”
After that second goal, Hidden Valley had only one more corner kick and one more shot the rest of the way. Feisty freshman Gina Schroffner, All-League frosh Piper Paslay, Emma Hart, Meador, Braunger and the rest of the Spartan defense worked hard to keep Meigs from having to do too much to preserve the shutout, and Marist’s midfield and front row kept the ball constantly on Hidden Valley’s side.
“After we got one in, it caused them to chase in the second half,” Schroffner explained. “We showed our quality and put the ball in the back of the net a few times.”
Goal number three came off of a free kick in the 76th minute of the 80-minute match. From a severe angle about 14 yards right of the goal, Meador struck a great ball with pace that bent inside the far post. It marked the senior’s sixth goal of the year.
“I’m super glad I got the goal for my last game ever of my career,” she said.
Marist Catholic scored again 90 seconds later, as Freeman’s blast from 40 yards out on another free kick snuck into the lower left corner. She finished the season with a team-high 32 goals.
The insurance goals gave the Marist team the luxury of thinking about winning state and imaging the dogpile to come.
“It was so rewarding,” said Chase. “I don’t even know how to describe the feeling. I just knew my team was happy. We made history.”
“It feels amazing,” said Meador. “This is my third time playing at state; it’s about time we won. I’m really proud. I’m so impressed with our young players. They worked their butts off. We started off a little shaky, but we checked in the second half and got the job done.”
Hart had a healthy perspective about the Hidden Valley loss.
“It’s just a blessing to be here,” he said. “It was so amazing for us to get this far. You leave with sadness in your eyes but everyone walks off the field giving everything they had. To have that last moment be a loss…it’ll sting for a while but the glory of it all and the bigger picture is this was great for us.”