PUYALLUP – It was clear that the Liberty High School girls soccer team has built a connection.
In particular, one connection on the field made the difference.
Sami Harrell combined with Sydney Abel for both goals — with Harrell scoring the game-winner in the 53rd minute — as Liberty of Issaquah brought home its first state title in girls soccer with a 2-1 victory over second-ranked Kamiakin of Kennewick in the Class 3A championship match on Saturday at Sparks Stadium.
After starting the season with a lopsided loss and a tie, the Patriots (15-4-4) grew together and outscored opponents 9-2 in the state-title run.
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“We didn’t think coming into this year that we were going to win this,” Harrell said. “As the season progressed, we realized we could actually win this thing.”
Harrell, a junior, volleyed in an 8-yard shot into the upper right corner off a precise cross from the right side by Abel, a sophomore, putting the Patriots up for good. It was Harrell’s team-leading 11th goal of the season.
“It was so incredible,” Harrell said. “It went off my calf. It wasn’t off my foot, so I didn’t know where it was going. I was just kind of hitting it and hoping it would go in the goal.”
Once ahead 2-1, Liberty second-year coach Tami Nguyen had no intention of backing off or playing defensively.
“We felt like we had the run of play, so we just stuck to it, but we were a little tired,” said Nguyen.
It took six trips to the state semifinals for the Pats to break through for their first title. They lost 3-2 to Seattle Prep in the 2011 title match.
“This is just a well-bonded group,” said Nguyen. “After beating (top-ranked) Columbia River in the first round, that was big for us and we just kept rolling on.”
This year, Liberty was rolling just 37 seconds into the title match. That’s when the Patriots opened the scoring, with Harrell this time providing the service with a left-footed cross and Abel poking the ball inside the right post.
“Those two played together a lot of minutes this year,” Nguyen said. “You could obviously see the connection.”
Kamiakin (21-2) moved level at 1-1 on junior Alicia Nguyen’s penalty kick in the 16th minute. Nguyen’s kick was set up when Shaniah Adriano and Hannah Van Amen sandwiched Kamiakin’s Ellie Heiden in the penalty area on a breakaway.
The Braves were denied their first state title in the sport and finished second for the third time. They were runners-up in 4A in 1994 and 1999.
The Liberty players wrote the initials TM on their wrists in memory of former Liberty student Teagan McGinnis, who died in a car accident recently. McGinnis transferred to Kentridge, but the Pats still honored him.
“ We dedicated this run to him,” Abel said.
Bellevue 2, Seattle Prep 1
Senior midfielder Alexis Johnson bounced in a 34-yard free kick, skipping the ball over the head and off the hands of Panthers goalkeeper Abby Rockwell in the 71st minute, as the Wolverines (17-4) ended their first trip to state in winning fashion in the third-fourth place match.
Johnson was just trying put the ball on frame, but didn’t expect to score. The tally came less than two minutes after Prep (13-5-6) pulled even at 1-1.
“ I was just trying to get it up there for them and give them (teammates) an opportunity,” said Johnson, who played every minute (1,687) of the season for Bellevue. “Hopefully, they could get the ball and get us a goal. It was the utmost importance to come back with a win, especially being a senior.”
Senior defender Clarice Burch put away a 12-yard shot in the 22nd minute, then Mary Ann Santucci tied it up for Seattle Prep in the 69th minute with a 14-yard strike. Prep settled for fourth, making it the ninth time for the Panthers finishing fourth or higher at state.