State semifinal matches Highland, Connell for third time this year
By Marcus Michelson
YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season, or so the old saying goes.
That’s the challenge the Highland boys soccer team faces when they play Connell in a state semifinal Friday at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner.
“I think our boys realize the task ahead,” Scotties coach Greg Wagner said. “They understand we’re playing Connell, they know we beat them twice, and they know that doesn’t mean anything.”
But at this point of the season, even little things can mean everything.
Things like game film.
“We have two games of film to look back on,” Wagner said. “We’ll study the film and figure out what we need to do.”
Things like health.
“Every coach knows your biggest task is managing injuries,” Wagner said. “There’s no one that’s not available. You might not have played a single minute in the postseason, but you’d better be ready to go.”
Things like experience.
“They’ve been through the ringer,” Wagner said of his team. “Losing in the quarterfinals three years in a row after winning two of the last three district championships.”
The Scotties (18-0-2) hope this state semifinal plays out like the last two times they reached the final four. In 2008 and 2009, Highland defeated SCAC East teams (Wahluke and Connell) in the semifinals, winning the title in 2008 with a victory over King’s.
To make that happen again, Wagner said he will be counting on leading scorers David Paniagua, Missael Lopez and Carlos Magana to maintain the team’s momentum. Paniagua has 14 goals this year for the Scotties, while Magana led the team with 15. Lopez scored 11 times.
He’ll also look for his team to continue its defensive dominance.
“We’ve allowed two goals in the last 13 games,” Wagner said. “So our defense is playing really well together. We made a couple of significant adjustments (in the state quarterfinal win) against Chelan that worked well, we’ll make a few more adjustments for Connell.”
The Eagles (17-3-0) are set up similarly to Highland.
“Connell has a couple kids who can finish,” Wagner said. “They’ve only allowed 12 goals (this season), defensively they will be sound.”
Wagner hopes his offense will be even more sound.
“The thing about us,” Wagner said, “You can shut David down, but we’ve got other guys.” The winner of the Highland-Connell semifinal will play the winner of the other semifinal between Bellevue Christian and Klahowya on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“Bellevue Christian is very good, they’re undefeated as well,” Wagner said. “They’ve only allowed four goals until (Saturday, when they beat South Whidbey 3-2). They’re very disciplined. They don’t score a ton of goals on you, but they don’t let you score.”
Klahowya beat La Center and King’s on their way to the semifinals.
Regardless, two games remain this season, the semifinals and the championship or consolation game.
Wagner knows they could go either way.
“You can know everything about a team, but if the other team wants it more than you, you’re going to lose,” he said. “I think we’re ready.”