All West Albany High girls soccer coach Erik Ihde wanted Tuesday for his birthday was a win.
And not for himself, but for his senior class that has made a huge impact on the program during their time at the varsity level.
His team made that wish come true, but it took to the final whistle to be able to celebrate an undefeated home campaign on senior night.
Sienna Higginbotham had a first-half goal, Bethanie Marteeny added one in the second half and the Bulldogs hung on down the stretch to fend off a gritty Sprague side 2-1 in the Greater Valley Conference battle and Memorial Stadium.
“Gosh, these seniors have been huge leaders,” Ihde said after the team serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” before their postgame debriefing.
“A lot of them have been on the team for three, four years. It’s a really special group.”
After Marteeny’s goal in the 67th minute gave the Bulldogs (9-2-1, 6-1) what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 lead, Sprague began to miount a furious comeback.
Two minutes later, Emilie Wilkinson took a corner kick and delivered a “wicked bender” as Ihde described it that West keeper Kennedy Guilliot went to make the save on only to have it go into the front corner of the net.
“I feel like we did feel confident and then we started passing around more and they really stepped it up so then we had to again step up our game," Guilliot said. “They came back with a lot of fire and we just had to come back with more.”
Then came a final minute that saw the Olympians (2-8-1, 1-6) pepper Guilliot, including sending one over the top of the crossbar that would have equalized it.
“I was just getting really, really anxious but our whole team was in the box helping me defend,” Guilliot said. “I was just trying to play my best. We just pulled it out.”
The game easily could have been lopsided but the Bulldogs were unable to convert on numerous chances throughout.
“I felt like we created a ton of opportunities,” Ihde said. “We did all the things we wanted to do. It felt like at times everything came together except for the ball in the back of the net. That’s just the nature of soccer.”
Higginbotham’s bid to make it 2-0 near the end of the first half was saved by the Sprague keeper, allowing the Olympians to keep it close.
“It felt like we were one goal from just really breaking it open,” Ihde said.
The Olympians may have just one win in GVC play, but fell 3-2 to West Salem and 2-0 to South Salem, two of the top teams in the conference. West Albany drooped a 4-0 decision at South Salem last week.
“Sprague is a dangerous team,” Ihde said. “They’ve got some players who can finish. They’ve played a lot of teams really tough. So I was never comfortable with a one-goal lead.”
Ihde praised the play of the defense, led by seniors Elena Meza Wynkoop, Drew Dye and Nichole Yon.
Now comes a battle at West Salem on Tuesday. The Bulldogs are still in the hunt for the GVC title but need a win and some help.
Regardless of the outcome, all that matters is the way the team is playing heading into the postseason.
“Our goal is to go out and play our best soccer,” Ihde said. “Some nights you stick in a ton and some nights two is enough.”
That latter was the case on Tuesday and provided a nice birthday gift for Ihde.