PUYALLUP – There was a point this season when Rachel Wheeler’s ability to finish the season was in doubt.
The Issaquah High School senior standout injured her right knee early in the season. She feared it could be a torn ACL again, but all she needed was to rest what turned out to be a bone contusion.
After missing about half the season, there is no doubt the senior forward is finishing out this season strong.
Wheeler, who missed last year’s semifinals and finals in 4A, came to life with two goals as Issaquah dominated from start to finish for a 3-0 win over Olympia in the Class 4A state semifinals on Friday at Sparks Stadium.
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“It’s a great feeling to be on the field with my teammates, to work with them and get a victory,” Wheeler said. “To be partaking with them on the field is a totally different feeling. We worked our butts off.”
The Eagles (15-4-1) advance to the state title match on Saturday at 4 p.m. against fourth-ranked Central Valley of Spokane (17-1-1) — the team against which Wheeler was playing when she tore her ACL in last year’s state quarterfinals.
Issaquah reached the state championship match for the ninth time in school history. The Eagles, which has three state titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007 in 3A, made it seven title appearances in the last 10 years. They lost in last year’s final to Skyline, 1-0.
This time, they turned to Wheeler.
“We talked about that she’s got to have a big game in the tournament, and find one game where she’s great,” said Issaquah coach Tom Bunnell. “And she did tonight. She came back and came back strong.”
Olympia (15-4-2) had gained it first semifinal berth since 1995 and fifth semifinal berth overall. The Bears were second in 1988 in 4A (then AAA) and second in 1995 in 3A.
The Eagles’ NCAA Division-I caliber combination of Kentucky-bound Wheeler and Boise State-bound Annie Hoffman combined to give their team 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
Wheeler wheeled and fired home far post on an 8-yard shot after a nice pass from the left side by Hoffman, a junior. Wheeler added another, her fifth goal of the season, in the second half.
Tala Fry converted a nice left-footed shot in the 69th minute on a well-placed feed from Lyrik Fryer to hike the Eagles’ lead to 3-0.
Central Valley (Spokane) 1, Mead (Spokane) 0 (5-3, PKs)
Junior defender Taryn Miller made the game-winning kick and junior goalkeeper Jessie Kunz-Pfeiffer made a save in the penalty-kick shootout as the fourth-ranked Bears (17-1-1) beat their Greater Spokane League rival for the second time in three meetings this season.
With CV up 4-3 in shootout, Kunz-Pfeiffer made a diving save on Brianna Bennett’s fourth-round kick.