Auburn Riverside’s Reis McNeill, right, and Curtis Van Daele converge on Federal Way’s Connor Wells as goalkeeper Riley Dunne anticipates the shot during last Friday’s match. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

Auburn Riverside’s Reis McNeill, right, and Curtis Van Daele converge on Federal Way’s Connor Wells as goalkeeper Riley Dunne anticipates the shot during last Friday’s match. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

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Bigger, stronger, wiser.

Auburn Riverside, a boys soccer program deep in senior experience, good size and power, is making another run at the state 4A tournament, having survived a late regular-season gauntlet of difficult matches to secure the North Puget Sound League Olympic Division title and reserve a suitable spot in next week’s district playoffs.

Behind a smothering defense, the Ravens withstood a challenge from visiting Federal Way for a physical, crown-clinching 2-0 victory under the lights on a chilly night last Friday.

On Tuesday night, Auburn Riverside furnished the regular season with a 2-0 win at Decatur.

The Ravens, riding an nine-game unbeaten streak, improved to 12-1-1 in league, 13-1-2 overall. The Eagles, who had their six-game winning streak snapped, rebounded with a 5-1 win against Auburn Mountainview on Tuesday. They are 10-2-2, 11-3-2.

The district playoffs are May 8-12 at area stadiums.

“It feels real amazing, and I tell you what … any team that wants to make a decent playoff (berth) is thankful for an ending like this against tough teams,” said coach Robyn Saarenas, whose Ravens won their first league or division title since 2015. “You have to rev up for the playoffs, right? So this is great prep. Federal Way, Todd Beamer have been amazing teams. They have challenged us in every aspect of the game … and helped us prepare.”

Auburn Riverside and Todd Beamer fought to a scoreless draw last Tuesday, April 24, making last Friday’s match even more crucial for the Ravens.

Junior midfielder Niklas Leiherr, an exchange student from Germany, drilled a goal from about 20 yards out seven minutes into the match. Senior forward Cristian Morales scored in the 53rd minute from close range on a sharp cross from Luis Lopez after a hustling Kobe Middlebrooks retrieved the ball before rolling out of bounds near the corner of the pitch.

That’s all Riley Dunne needed as the goalkeeper made several outstanding saves to preserve the shutout. The Eagles charged Dunne early and often but couldn’t hit the back of the net.

Dunne made one acrobatic save, leaping high to deny a right-top-shelf shot in the match’s 25th minute, ending a Federal Way flurry. Saarenas described Dunne as “Superman” on the play.

The Ravens got ahead and stayed there.

“We had trouble clicking starting out, but in the second half we found our game. We played and we were fine,” said Dunne, the latest in a string of goalkeepers at the school who will graduate and play at the next level.

Dunne is one of 16 seniors in the program, 12 of whom are on the varsity and five of whom started for Saarenas as freshmen on the Ravens’ state semifinal team in 2015.

“It feels great as a senior to be on a team that’s just as good, if not better, than our team (my) freshman year,” Dunne said.

Against Federal Way, the Ravens weathered a physical match against a quick opponent.

One defender, senior Curtis Van Daele, had the lofty assignment of containing the Eagles’ explosive Dembo Sagna. Van Daele, with some help from his friends, shut down Sagna.

“I’m very physical. I try to be. If somebody knocks me down, I get back up and knock them down,” Van Daele said of his style of aggressive play. “We were a little bit concerned (about their speed and quickness) but we know we have the mentality (to stop them), and we kept on pushing.”

That approach reflects a resilient senior team ready to do whatever is necessary to keep a good season of high expectations going.

“They have all grown so much. They are all athletically stronger and mentally tougher … and it just feels like this is where we should be this year,” said Saarenas, who has led five teams to the state tournament in her 15 seasons at the school. “I’m not feeling like this is the end of our story.”

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