5A-I girls soccer state championship
Who: No. 2 Hamilton vs. No. 1 Xavier
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Campo Verde H.S. (3870 S. Quartz Street, Gilbert)
Last meeting: Jan. 19: Hamilton 1, Xavier 0 (OT)
Other championship matches
(all matches at Campo Verde H.S. unless noted)
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Flagstaff, 5 p.m.
No. 1 Catalina Foothills vs. No. 6 Sabino, Noon (at Tucson H.S.)
No. 2 Pinnacle vs. Thursday winner No. 1 Ironwood Ridge/No. 4 Marana Mtn. View, 10:30 a.m.
Jason Thompson had plenty to say.
If this was any other soccer season — high school or club — and any other team, he would have started barking instructions.
But not this team.
Hamilton had just allowed only its fourth goal of the season to Mesquite during Thursday night’s 5A Divsiion I state tournament quarterfinals. It tied the match at 1-1 with 24 minutes left in regulation, and the sudden momentum swing had Mesquite riding high.
The Huskies haven’t been tied — let alone trail — an opponent more than one hand’s worth of occasions this season.
Even Hamilton boys coach Nick Markette and assistant Nathan Fairchild were texting each other, and Markette asked Fairchild to gauge Thompson’s demeanor after Mesquite tied the score.
“I didn’t say a thing,” Thompson said. “I was about to walk down the sideline and start, and I didn’t say anything. I’ll let the girls work it out and pull together. They can handle this and they talked about pulling together.”
Just over a minute later, the Huskies were back on top when star Rylie Johnson set up Hannah Kijowski for the go-ahead goal in the Huskies’ 2-1 victory that earned them a trip to the 5A-I state championship match.
The Huskies have to knock off two-time defending champion and No. 1-seed Xavier a second time this season to win their first soccer title. The Huskies won a classic matchup on Jan. 19 in overtime against Xavier.
“It’s been the norm this season,” Thompson said of managing this team. “It’s the only team I’ve been with where I’ll let them work their way through it, and this may be the only team I’ll ever be able to do that. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Having Johnson helps. A lot. She’s a top defender and is approaching the 50-point plateau this season. Her shot to beat Xavier earlier this season was one of the best of the season.
There’s plenty more. Five Huskies reached double digits in total points (goals plus assists) — led by Johnson, Sam Weiss and Taylor Korytko — and Laura Glew has 16 shutouts in goal. Thompson has raved about his four captains all season.
Though short on seniors (five on the entire roster), Xavier counters with plenty elsewhere. Despite losing 13 players (eight starters) from last year’s championship team, the Gators’ youth has served them well.
The Huskies are especially worried about junior Emily Holzmeister and freshman Nikki Walts, who had two goals in Wednesday’s 3-1 semifinals victory against Desert Vista.
The Huskies were given Thursday off to heal bodies and minds. It’s hardly a sign of over-confidence given the Huskies are well aware of Xavier’s abilities and the Huskies haven’t been here before.
But Thompson admitted the decision is a glimpse into what he thinks of his team’s chances to win its first state championship.
“We’re not going to change what got us here and we’re not going get much better at this point with one practice,” he said. “I’ve said it all the time the past four months: To be the best, you have to beat the best. What better way to test ourselves, to show that the entire season wasn’t a fluke, than by beating the two-time state champions?”