Each of their journeys have been different, but for five area high school soccer teams it has them one win away from playing for a state title.
Three girls teams — West Albany, Corvallis and Crescent Valley — and two boys teams — Corvallis and South Albany — will look to punch their tickets to the 5A title game set for Saturday in Hillsboro.
And for four of those teams, they will have to conquer a familiar foe in Tuesday night’s semifinals.
The Corvallis and South boys will face off at 7 p.m. in a rematch of an epic regular-season battle that saw the RedHawks score in the closing seconds for a 1-0 victory at home.
This time, the game will be played at Spartan Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
On the girls side, Crescent Valley and West Albany will look to settle things at 7 p.m. at West after they battled to a regular-season tie to open the Mid-Willamette Conference in late September. That match also starts at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
The Corvallis girls will hit the road to take on Churchill at 6:30 p.m. The Spartans are coming off an upset of No. 1 seed North Eugene.
For the Corvallis and West girls and the South boys, it would be the first trip to the title game. The CV girls last made the finals in 2006, where the Raiders lost in a shootout.
For the Corvallis boys, it would mean a return trip to the title game and an opportunity at redemption after seeing a potential title slip out of their grasps with a tough 2-1 overtime setback against Woodburn a season ago.
You always need a break or two to go your way,” coach Chad Foley said of being on the cusp of making it back to the title game. “You do the best you can with what you’ve got and we’ve got a lot of really good pieces. So it’s really exciting to see us in the situation we are with the opportunity that we have. Hopefully we take advantage of that opportunity on Tuesday.”
The Spartans, the No. 2 seed in the tournament after winning the MWC title, have cruised to the semis with a 6-0 win over The Dalles and a 5-0 victory over Churchill in the quarters.
Foley said the Spartans are looking forward to having another shot at the RedHawks.
“We came away from our last game with them pretty disappointed, obviously in the result but also our performance overall,” he said. “You don’t (often) get opportunities to atone for past defeats and so it’s definitely exciting to have that opportunity.”
Since that loss, their only of the season, the Spartans have reeled off five wins and allowed just one goal while scoring 30.
“That’s just the character of this group, it’s what we’ve been focusing on all year long is last year was really a hard way to end the season and that motivated us going into the offseason and into this season,” Foley said. “The loss to South Albany was the exact same thing. It motivated us. It hurt in the moment but everybody just rallied around each other and our belief in each other never wavered.”
That victory over the Spartans put the RedHawks in position to win their first conference title. Instead, they tied their last two opponents and finished third.
Coach Tony Vandermeer said the ties felt more like losses and the players had nearly two weeks off before playing again.
He said it was almost like the win over the Spartans was the big prize and the players had to understand they had more they were capable of accomplishing.
The players talked about owning up to the ties and missed opportunities, and rebounded with decisive victories over Rex Putnam (6-1) and Silverton (5-1). The win over the Foxes in Saturday’s quarterfinals more than made up for the tie they settled for in the regular-season finale.
In fact, the semifinal berth is the first for any program in the school’s history.
“The guys are incredibly proud of that accomplishment,” Vandermeer said.
Vandermeer, who coached at Corvallis and led the Spartans to the 1995 state title and to a second-place finish in 2000, said Tuesday’s game should be a lot of fun.
“To be honest I think it’s a real blast for the kids and the coaches,” he said. “Two programs that are pretty big competitors but also quite a few friendships.”
While the RedHawks, the No. 3 seed, will look to make more history, Vandermeer wasn’t sure this year’s team would even make the playoffs after reclassification.
Sure, Woodburn, which had a stranglehold on the MWC in recent years, was leaving, but with North Salem and West Albany joining and only four guaranteed playoff spots — coupled with losing nine seniors — Vandermeer didn't know what to expect.
"I was just hoping we would make the playoffs,” he said. “Being able to get to the final four when our league is so strong, to me that’s a sign of how far our team and our program has come in the last 12 months. I was thinking with all the graduation we had last year we might not be able to make the playoffs.”
West regrouped after a tough 2-0 home loss to Corvallis in the regular-season finale that cost the Bulldogs a league title.
“Taking nothing away from Corvallis, we really did not play up to speed,” coach Erik Ihde said. “In fact, it’s a credit to Corvallis because they came out and just kind of punched us in the nose and we didn’t recover. It was (our) roughest game in terms of how played.”
That loss just before the postseason did have Ihde a bit concerned about how it could negatively impact them.
“We’ve kind of done the opposite,” he said. “We used Corvallis as a learning game, we’re not going to do that again and the girls have rebounded from that incredibly well.”
The Bulldogs, the No. 3 seed, got out with a 1-0 win over Springfield in the opener, then edged MWC rival and No. 6 seed Silverton 3-2 at home on Saturday.
West gets another regular-season rematch against the Raiders after the team battled to a scoreless draw.
“I felt like it was one of our most even games that we played on the year,” he said. “Sometimes you have a tie and you think, ‘gosh I felt like we outplayed them,’ or you have a tie say, ‘gosh we kind of snuck that one.’ I felt good about how the game went. We had a couple late opportunities we couldn’t quite sneak in. I felt like it was a game that was winnable, but like I said I thought it was a very evenly matched game.”
Ihde expects a similar game.
“I think it will be very much a battle,” he said. “Obviously Crescent Valley is playing great right now and I feel like we had one of our best games of the year (Saturday).”
CV is looking to finally get over the hump after having lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion each of the past two seasons.
And to do that, it will take a third straight playoff win on the road.
“We’ve come a long way,” coach Blake Leamy said. “It’s part of our culture now. We’re pretty excited about how the kids respond to stuff and it’s been just a really good year as far as the team chemistry and kids getting along. We’ve worked hard and focused but also had a lot of laughs and it’s been really enjoyable.”
The Raiders were third in the MWC and had a power ranking of seventh but received the 10 seed and had to beat both Wilsonville and No. 2 seed Willamette, both league champions, to reach the semis.
“This year we’ve had to grind and figure out who we are,” Leamy said, noting the Raiders lost nine seniors of last year’s team. “So it’s been kind of extra special for us that we’ve had all these young players really learn from the older ones the last couple years and they’ve really just kind of taken the mantle and run with it. Very rewarding as a coach.”
Since a 1-0 loss to Corvallis, the Raiders have reeled off six straight wins, with four on the road. Leamy said the Raiders are finally healthy.
“We’ve had a consistent team the last four or five games and we’re starting to really figure that out,” said Leamy, who won a state in 1996 as the boys coach at CV. “The competitive level has gotten way better, we compete now, we’ve had to because the two teams we played have been league champions.”
It will be third rematch of the postseason for the Raiders, who had lost to both Wilsonville and Willamette early in the season.
“It does help in that we know who they are but they also know who we are,” Leamy said. “We’ve definitely changed quite a bit in who we are and how we go about things.”
Corvallis, under first-year coach Kelli Cronkrite, who played for the Spartans in the early 2000s, is in the semifinals and have had to take a tougher road than normal.
The Spartans received the No. 8 seed as the MWC champion but finished the year ranked No. 10. That is a bit misleading as they had to forfeit three victories to start the season because of using an ineligible player.
That dropped their ranking and made the journey a bit more difficult.
The Spartans opened the playoffs with a 4-2 win over a Scappoose team that was ranked No. 6.
Then it was a road match at No. 1 seed North Eugene, a game the Spartans won 2-1 with a late goal.
Now the Spartans, whose only on-field loss came to Silverton, will look to make the title game for the first time in program history at Churchill, the No. 4 seed.