Adam Becker thought of what to say. He huddled with his Stadium High School girls soccer team following their 4-1 loss to Mercer Island in the 3A state championship match on Saturday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
Words weren’t necessary.
“I just showed them this,” Becker said, holding the second-place trophy handed to him by Washington Interscholastic Activities Association officials.
“And then I said, ‘Yes, it hurts. But what you did here is unbelievable. Plain and simple. No reason to hang your heads.”
One year ago, Stadium was fourth in its own league standings, finishing 8-6-3.
The Tigers entered Saturday at 19-0-0, they just knocked off the defending state champions, Bellevue, in the semifinals, and were hoping for their first state title in school history.
So you can imagine the nerves, especially for a team that has just three seniors on its roster.
“Everyone had them,” Becker laughed. “They were all nervous, none of them had been here before.”
And he said that’s what cost Stadium most.
Jessie Stenberg finished with a hat trick, and Mercer Island scored three goals in the first half. The one goal she didn’t score was officially ruled a Stadium own goal, though Mercer Island’s other two scores also came off the Tigers’ mistakes, too.
It started in the 14th minute. Stadium junior goalkeeper Katherine Nelson, a two-year starter, stepped in front of Kendall Riley’s free kick from 30 yards away, but it deflected off her gloves and behind her and Stenberg was there to send it into the goal.
Eight minutes later, Nelson leaped to prevent a corner kick from scoring in the top right corner of the goal, and when it deflected off her glove, Stenberg was there again to push the ball through a crowd just inside the right post.
So Mercer Island took a 2-0 lead, when Stadium hadn’t allowed more than one goal in its previous three state tournament matches. Total..
But the Tigers answered less than a minute later when freshman midfielder Ella Nadeau scored off an assist from Nyah Rivera.
The dagger came in the 28th minute, though. Mercer Island’s Emily Arron struck a line drive from 33 yards out and Stadium’s Kayla Fraser tried to clear it with a header. But it skipped off the back of her head and past Nelson into the goal for a 3-1 advantage.
Stenberg’s third goal in the 74th minute was simply the icing on the Islanders’ cake.
“They are definitely a more aggressive, fast team than we’ve played,” Becker said. “They had a better idea of what they were doing. And when they did it, they did it. The difference was they beat us to every ball and we scored every goal except for that last one. All three in the first half we scored on ourselves. Three team mistakes and you can’t come back from that.”
Though it came one day after Stadium thwarted every opportunity in a 1-0 win over Bellevue in the semifinals, with TNT All-Area player of the year Makenzie Burks scoring the game-winning goal, and Nelson finishing with six key saves. Nelson had 10 saves on Saturday.
“She’s amazing, she’s amazing — plain and simple,” Becker said of Nelson. “Yeah, she made two mistakes today that cost us, but we would not have got to this game without her. No way. I’d still take her over anyone in the state.”
And Mercer Island coach James Valles seemed to have the right combination to finally slow Burks, who finished her junior season with 27 goals.
“Keep her on her right foot,” Valles said. “Don’t let her go left. She’s always going to try to go by you and then go left. Don’t bite. Just stay in front of her. And my two defensive mids controlled the midfield I thought all day.
“But her throws were amazing, too. We were like, ‘Maybe we should start giving her corners instead of letting her throw it in. Because I think she was actually throwing it farther as the game went on.”
As Stadium pressed later in the second half, Burks received a yellow card in the 59th minute.
“The game got a little chippy at the end and we were just telling our players to be composed,” Valles said. “We’re just looking to play clock management and when you get fouled, take the foul.”
The Islanders (16-1-3) seemed to attack from all angles, getting 16 shots to Stadium’s nine. They finished second in the 3A/2A KingCo to Liberty of Issaquah, while Bellevue finished fourth.
So Valles said his team didn’t have any nerves facing undefeated Stadium because Mercer Island had been battle tested.
“I’m not going to lie, I looked at (Stadium’s) record and they’re winning some games 10-0 (They beat Lincoln 10-0, then 13-0, Mount Tahoma 11-0 and Spanaway Lake 9-0). Even if you’re super good that doesn’t do you any good,” Valles said. “It just inflates stats. Us having some games, we were prepared.”
But with almost its entire roster set to return next season, Becker didn’t seem distraught after the match. He seemed confident.
“We’ll be back,” said the Stadium alum, who was in his first season back coaching the team after taking last season off. “We believed we could win it. We believed all year we could win it. But we fell short and we let our emotions get to us. These are young girls, so we’ll be back.”
2A STATE PLAYOFFS
White River 3, West Valley of Spokane 2: After a disappointing loss that put them in the third-place game, the Hornets found themselves in a tough spot.
Down two goals at halftime, White River’s offense came alive to score three unanswered goals to win them the match.
The win gives the Hornets a third-place finish in the 2A girls soccer tournament, their highest finish since coming in second in 2010.
Staff writer Jordan Whitford contributed to this report
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
MERCER ISLAND 4, STADIUM 1
MI: Jessie Stenberg, 14’; Jessie Stenberg, 22’; Own goal, 28’; Jessie Stenberg, 74’.
S: Ella Nadeau (Nyah Rivera assist), 23’
MI: Amy Braman, 5
S: Katherin Nelson, 10