Before the Auburn Riverside girls soccer team could navigate an uncharted season it had to climb a mountain.
Blessed with a special group of players, Coach Paul Lewis took the Ravens on a preseason hike on Mount Rainier to simulate what an autumn run on the pitch would ask of them to reach the top.
“We talked about climbing the mountain,” Lewis said of the challenge. “We used the mountain as a comparison to the season. … And we’re this close to the mountaintop right now. The kids can see the peak, the summit right now. They’re excited to get the opportunity to climb the mountain all the way to the top.”
The Ravens took a major step on Saturday afternoon, pulling out a 1-0 victory over gritty Olympia in a 4A state quarterfinal playoff at Auburn Memorial Stadium.
Freshman forward Samiah Shell’s breakout goal – her 17th of the season – at the 44th minute was all the Ravens needed to hold off the Bears and make school history.
Fourth-ranked Auburn Riverside (19-1-1), the North Puget Sound League champion that’s riding a 15-match winning streak, makes the program’s first-ever final four appearance against No. 3 Inglemoor (14-1-3), the Kingco champion. The semifinal kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
“It’s really amazing. Getting here is remarkable,” said senior goalkeeper Bella Reckling, who made eight saves, including some difficult stops in crunch time. “We’re just very united. We’re a family and that makes us more strong.”
Many of the girls have been with Lewis for the three- or four-year varsity ride. They have come close to making it to state, a dream only realized this fall. They lost 2-0 to Olympia in a winner-to-state game last year.
The Ravens are savoring the moment.
“It feels amazing. We all wanted it,” said Addie Saarenas, a strong senior defender and a third-year Raven who transferred from Stadium. “It’s exciting. We can’t wait to go to the final four and even the championship maybe.”
Youth has blended with the seasoned veterans to make it a record-setting season for AR. The Ravens have scored 95 goals, shattering the program’s single-season record.
Shell and Kiana Gutierrez, a sophomore forward, have led the way as playmakers.
Just as Gutierrez did in the Ravens’ 1-0 first-round, overtime win Wednesday against Enumclaw off a long feed from Grace Anderson, Shell turned a similar feat Saturday. This time, Gutierrez delivered the assist, a boot that traveled across the field to Shell who beat the pursuing defender and drilled a shot past Bears keeper Lyric Tinnel with just over three minutes into the second half.
“It was like slow motion but yet at a pace,” Shell said of the play. “When she played that ball I knew that it was going to be a big opportunity so I had to decide … ‘Is this going to be it?’ … I decided to take that one moment. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s 50-50. … It was an uplifting moment.
“(The shot) didn’t go where I was aiming for it to go, but the strike of the ball was so hard that it went between her arms.
“It feels amazing, knowing that we’re the first Auburn Riverside women’s soccer team to make it to the final four,” Shell added. “This is such a great opportunity, especially my freshman year. I’m just glad to be a part of this opportunity. I’ll never forget it.”
Neither will Lewis, who understands just how difficult it is to come this far.
“You have to have a good team and things have to go your way a little bit,” he said. “It feels really good for the girls to maybe get over that hump.
“We talked about how these games are going to be close,” he said. “We’re playing good teams. It’s not going to be like blowout territory. You just have to be good enough to win that one moment … and we have some kids who really can finish those situations. They are just gifted kids. They have tremendous work ethic … and play the defense to make it count.”
Reckling was solid in goal and Jasmine Williams stepped it up when she stepped in for starter Sydney Wate, who pulled a muscle in warmups. Williams responded as Auburn Riverside’s physical defense contained Olympia’s attack.
“They had good players up top who were really fast,” said Saarenas, who welcomes blue-collar defensive duty. “We had to make sure we communicated … and pressure, cover and go strong.”
Which proved too strong at times for Olympia (10-6-4), a surprising quarterfinalist.
“We’re lucky to be here, and we worked hard to be here,” said Bears coach Tamara Liska. “They fight for each other. They played well. They played with heart. I’m incredibly proud of them to be where we are at.”