The two state soccer powers meet Thursday to decide the top seed out of the KingCo 4A, a league that has won seven of the last 10 state championships.
The road to a state title in Class 4A girls soccer generally has been paved in KingCo 4A gold of late.
It’s not likely to change this season when the Class 4A championship is played on Nov. 19 at 4 p.m. at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium.
In the last 10 Class 4A state championship matches, 11 KingCo 4A teams have been represented with seven coming away with state titles, including Issaquah last season.
Skyline has collected four titles since 2006 with crowns in 2012, 2011, 2009 and 2008. Issaquah has won three Class 3A titles in addition to last season’s first state title in 4A.
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It’s fitting that those two stellar programs clash in Thursday’s winner-to-state, KingCo 4A championship match. Skyline (11-0-4), by virtue of its regular-season title, hosts Issaquah (12-1-2) in Thursday’s 7 p.m. title showdown.
“There’s a huge mutual respect between [Skyline coach Don Braman] and the kids who have been around for four years and some of them club teammates,” Issaquah coach Tom Bunnell said. “No matter what, the game is going to be intense. The game is always going to be a great one. With both teams being so, it makes the game that much more even matched.
“A lot of times we’ve played in the KingCo championship, it’s turned into a precursor for the state championship. The last two years we’ve been on the same side of the [state] bracket, and that’s true this year, too, so it will be before the state championship if we meet again.”
Every season, the goal remains the same for Braman and his team to reach the KingCo 4A for a shot at a state berth. Once again, Issaquah stands in his team’s way.
“It’s been a pretty incredible run for us and we work all year to set up the opportunity to play in the [KingCo 4A] championship game,” said Braman, who has guided the Spartans to state 10 of the last 11 seasons. “It’s great to see that girls have worked so hard and put themselves in a position to do well in the postseason.
“I think Skyline vs. Issaquah in a championship game is just the best high-school soccer you can get. My girls know it and Tom’s girls know it. The entire community knows it and we always get a good turn out.”
The two teams played to a pair of scoreless draws on Sept. 15 and Oct. 11.
“The familiarity piece is huge,” said Bunnell of series, which usually features close and hotly contested matches. “We are familiar with each other as coaches and players. That makes it a big game and close game every time. That’s classic rivalry stuff.”
The only other two KingCo 4A teams remaining the state hunt are Woodinville (11-4-2) and Bothell (7-9-1). The third-place Falcons, the only team to beat Issaquah with a 1-0 decision on Oct. 18, host Bothell in a loser-out match on Thursday at Pop Keeney Stadium. The loser of the KingCo 4A title match would vie for the second and final state berth on Saturday.
The No. 1 seed over the years has traditionally come down to Skyline vs. Issaquah. The two teams have faced off seven of the last 11 years in the title contest, including this Thursday’s showdown. Skyline has won the tournament crown seven times in that stretch.
Issaquah, which has qualified for state 11 of the last 12 seasons, has come away with two tourney titles – 2006 and 2009 – in that 11-year time frame.
A big reason for Skyline’s success is Braman’s culture, which promotes all players being equals and part of the chase for success.
“We have players who will listen and that will adapt to what the team needs and not what they are most familiar with or best at,” Braman said. “We have a parent community that’s very supportive of the entire team and helping the program succeed at all levels. As a coaching staff, we really do what we can to empower the JV team program to take risks and go for it and learn and develop.
“As a varsity program, we really are looking to teach them how to deal with adversity and be resilient when adversity strikes.”
Thursday’s match is the 25th meeting between the two program since each program was taken over by new coaches in 2004. Braman took over Skyline that season and Bunnell was hired at Issaquah that same year.
In those 13 seasons, Skyline owns a 12-8-4 series advantage against a rival some 6.5 miles apart. Issaquah opened with a 5-0-1 record in the first six meetings and the Spartans have gone on a 12-3-4 run starting in 2008.
“We both get tired of playing each other, I think,” said Bunnell, who collected his 200th career win with the Eagles with a 7-0 win at Newport last week to close out the regular season. “But we know it’s some of the best competition we face, so it’s exciting. No doubt they bring out the best in us and we do the same for them.
“I always joke with girls before the game when we play Skyline, ‘If you’re not ready for this, then you’re not ready for anything.’”
Around the Area
One team from Washington state – Seattle Prep at No. 9 — remains in the Top 25 of the national rankings from National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). Skyline is among teams also receiving votes.
Three teams from Washington state start the week in NSCAA’s Region VI Top-15 poll, topped by Seattle Prep (No. 2), Skyline (No. 5) and Issaquah (No. 9).
Three teams from Washington state – Seattle Prep (No. 12) and Skyline (No. 14) and Camas (No. 38) – are in the Fall FAB 50 High School Girls Soccer Rankings from Oct. 25 put out by topdrawersoccer.com.
Here are The Seattle Times 2016 rankings for Class 4A, 3A and 2A for the week of Oct. 31:
1, Skyline (11-0-4)
2, Camas (15-0-1)
3, Issaquah (12-1-2)
4, Kentridge (12-1-2)
5, Beamer (14-1-1)
6, Mead (Spokane) (15-2-1)
7, West Valley (Yakima) (14-2-0)
8, Puyallup (13-1-2)
9, Jackson (11-2-3)
10, Hanford (13-3-0)
On the bubble: Lake Stevens (12-3-1), Tahoma (12-4-0), Kamiak (13-2-2), Kennedy Catholic (7-2-7), Central Valley (Spokane) (11-3-0), Kentwood (8-5-4), Woodinville (10-4-2), Eastlake (8-5-2), Wenatchee (12-4-0), Gonzaga Prep (Spokane) (11-6-0), Auburn Riverside (11-4-1), Skyview (Vancouver) (7-4-2), Olympia (9-4-3), Jackson (9-2-3), Union (Vancouver) (10-6-0), Chiawana (9-5-0), Sumner (10-5-1).
1, Seattle Prep (17-0-0)
2, Gig Harbor (16-0-0)
3, Bellevue (15-0-2)
4, Southridge (Kennewick) (14-2-0)
5, Lakeside (14-2-1)
6, Bonney Lake (12-1-3)
7, Squalicum (13-2-2)
8, Arlington (13-3-1)
9, Marysville-Getchell (12-3-1)
10, Bethel (9-1-4)
On the bubble: Ferndale (11-4-2), Edmonds-Woodway (10-3-4), Bishop Blanchet (9-5-3), Kamiakin (Kennewick) (10-6-0), Stanwood (12-4-1), Roosevelt (10-6-0), Garfield (9-3-2), Holy Names (12-7-0), Lake Washington (11-5-1), Wilson (Tacoma) (10-4-2), Central Kitsap (10-3-3), Yelm (10-4-2), Kelso (8-2-4),Ballard (11-7-0), Shorecrest (11-4-3), Redmond (9-6-3), Prairie (11-3-1), West Seattle (9-7-3), Mercer Island (9-6-2).
1, Tumwater (16-1-0)
2, Fife (15-1-0)
3, Olympic (15-1-0)
4, White River (14-1-2)
5, Sehome (13-3-1)
6, Selah (13-3-1)
7, Ridgefield (14-3-1)
8, East Valley (Spokane) (12-3-0)
9, Black Hills (13-4-0)
10, Orting (12-3-2)
On the bubble: Burlington (10-5-2), Ellensburg (9-7-1), Othello (12-5-1), Cheney (10-7-0), Cedarcrest (12-3-3), Prosser (10-6-1), Hockinson (13-4-0), Liberty (Issaquah) (10-4-3), North Kitsap (11-4-1), Franklin Pierce (9-7-1), Columbia River (13-3-1), Ephrata (13-4-0), Lynden (11-5-1), Clarkston (12-4-1), Steilacoom (12-5-0), Highline (12-3-1), Sequim (10-6-0).