The La Grande girls soccer team will head to Liberty High School in Hillsboro seeking its first-ever state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Tiger soccer playing in first-ever championship match against Scappoose
The La Grande and Scappoose girls soccer teams know very little about each other, and they’ve both taken different roads to reach the Class 4A state championship game at Liberty High School Saturday. But, when both teams step onto the field, they’ll find glaring similarities.
For Scappoose it started as a bumpy ride under first-year head coach Nicholas Heffernan.
“We changed up the way we played the game,” Heffernan said. “We wanted to possess the ball more. Most teams just move the ball forward. That’s not real soccer to me.”
The fine tuning of Heffernan’s system led to three losses in the first four games.
The Indians fell to La Salle Prep, 5-1, and Gladstone, 2-0, to open the season. After losing to Oregon Episcopal 4-0, Scappoose has reeled off 13 straight wins.
“It took the girls time to adjust,” Heffernan said. “Now they know where each other are going to be on the field, and when they make mistakes, how to make the adjustments on the field.”
Like La Grande, the Indians have plenty of capable scorers on the field.
The good thing for Scappoose is that the three leading the charge are sophomores.
Natalie Muth, Eleanor and Lucy Davidson have accounted for all but one of the Indians’ 12 playoff goals.
“We like to get goals from our midfielders,” Heffernan said. “But, we feel like we can attack teams in different ways, and with different players. I don’t think other teams can key on any one player.”
La Grande head coach Sam Brown also noted an advantages that Scappoose will have.
“They’ve played a very tough schedule from the beginning of the season,” Brown said. “They’re in a tough league, so they were challenged throughout the season. That’s a good thing.”
For La Grande, it was an easier road at the beginning. The Tigers played two games before the playoffs decided by one goal.
Only one of those came during the Greater Oregon League schedule, a 3-2 win against McLoughlin.
But, as the playoff rounds have gone by, Brown said his team has been eased into the raising of the level of competition.
“Each round has gotten a little bit harder,” Brown said. “Against (North Bend/Oregon Coast Technology) we saw the most well-rounded team we’ve faced this season. They could do a few more things on offense then what we’ve seen.
“Pendleton was a great defensive team. Right there with the Bulldogs. Those matches helped us out.”
La Grande played Pendleton twice this season, winning 4-0 and 1-0, respectively.
The Buckaroos were at full strength in the final contest.
La Grande has plenty of scoring options as well. It all starts, however, with Haley White.
The senior forward is not only capable of scoring for herself, but often sets up her teammates for goals.
Senior Jasmine Smith is capable of scoring from deep with a powerful leg.
“We have options out there,” Brown said. “Those are the two that most teams key on. But, that can open things up for other players.”
Erin Bodfish and Lexus Miller-Moylan are very capable forwards, too.
La Grande will have attack options to, playing the more possession-based style it used early in the season, or pushing it forward as they have in the playoffs.
“We’ll see what we want to do, and what the game dictates,” Brown said. “The nice thing is that we’ll be playing on turf. The ball the roll true, unlike what we’ve seen during the postseason. That’s why we switched to moving the ball forward and out of our zone.
“On turf, you can keep the ball low and move it around quick.”
It’s the first appearance by both teams in the state championship game, and one will get to create more school history with a win.