High School Sports

Stadium survives nail-biter against the defending champs, will play for first state title

Makenzie Burks, Katherine Nelson lead Stadium to semifinal win over Bellevue

The unbeaten Tigers will face Mercer Island for the state championship.
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The unbeaten Tigers will face Mercer Island for the state championship.

Just how does it feel if you’re the Stadium High School girls soccer team to be 19-0-0 and heading to the 3A state championship?

“Insane,” coach Adam Becker said. “I can’t even explain it. Goosebumps. Overwhelming joy. Just pure happiness.”

Being Katherine Nelson and Makenzie Burks in the bottom of a jubilant pile in front of the goal after the top-ranked Tigers held on for a 1-0 win over Bellevue had to have felt just as good.

“They were one heck of a competition,” said Nelson, Stadium’s junior goalkeeper who had six saves, though it felt like she had 600. “I would have been biting my nails if my gloves weren’t on.”

And who else but Burks, who this week was selected as The News Tribune’s All-Area player of the year, would have two of the biggest plays of Friday’s match to send the Tacoma school to Saturday’s 3A state championship. It heads back to Puyallup to face fifth-ranked Mercer Island at 2 p.m. at Sparks Stadium.

She scored her 27th goal of the season in the 22nd minute off a defection. She touched the shot from about 5 yards out and left of the goal perfectly over Bellevue’s keeper into the top right corner.

And on Bellevue’s 10th corner kick of the match and just seconds remaining in stoppage time, Bellevue’s Kiley Suter headed it toward the goal in front of the net and Burks’ right leg was there to clear it before Stadium’s ensuing celebratory pile-up in front of the net.

“I was just like, ‘I got to do everything I can to get this ball out,’ ” Burks said. “ ‘It’s not going into the back of the net. It’s not happening. We’re going to win this game.’

“The ball came to my right foot and I cleared it. And the whistle blew and we all went crazy.”

She was videochatting on her phone with her mother, who missed the match because she flew to England on Thursday to be with Makenzie’s sick grandmother. She said it was the first match her mom had missed all season.

“We all have heart,” Burks said. “We all have passion for the game. Just believing in what we can do and the skill we have is what’s going to help us win the game tomorrow.”

Bellevue, the defending state champions, held nothing back in the second half.

Its best chance came about 20 seconds into the second half when Audrey Miller send a hard shot at goal, but Nelson stretched for the save.

Bellevue’ had eight corner kicks and none had resulted in a shot on goal until the the 69th minute, but Nelson dove and snatched the ball out of the air for another save.

“Oh my goodness, she’s phenomenal,” Becker said. “Got to be one of the top goalkeepers in the state, at any level – 3A, 4A, 2A, I don’t care. I’d take her over anyone.”

But Stadium’s defense also benefited from Becker’s key adjustments.

Burks is normally Stadium’s starting forward, but on her club team she’s a defender. So shortly into the second half he did something he hadn’t in any of Stadium’s previous 18 matches and moved Burks to left back.

“She was the one buzzing around getting tackles from her forward spot today, it just seemed natural to put her in the back line,” Becker said. “I knew I could rely on her, I knew she could shut down that side.”

Not that it made Burks’ job any less thrilling.

“Oh no,” she laughed. “We had to defend for our lives.”

Becker also moved Katie Varela to right back, he said, because Bellevue caught on and avoided the left side almost completely.

And with about a minute to play, Bellevue had a free kick that Burks cleared. Bellevue had 13 shots to Stadium’s eight.

Now the Tigers will play for a state title, hoping to do what the school’s boys soccer team accomplished in 2010.

And it comes a year after Stadium finished fourth in its own league at 8-6-3. That’s what brought Becker back into coaching after taking a season off, he said.

“In my heart, I felt I had unfinished business,” Becker said. “I felt I could have done a better job last year than 8-6-3. I felt terrible about it. So I came in eager, I came in hungry.

“Even after the first three weeks I never thought we’d be 19-0 heading into the state final. I told our girls we had a state semifinal team, but I never thought in any way, shape or form we’d be 19-0 going into the finals.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677

@TJCotterill

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