Having been the only team to beat No. 1 Xavier in a girls soccer match that counted this season, No. 2 Hamilton had a game plan.
Once Samantha Weiss gave the Huskies the lead in the 26th minute, Hamilton could go to that game plan: Weather the Gators attack by putting its best player on defense and challenging every possession.
Game, set and match for Hamilton, which pulled off an impressive 1-0 win over the two-time defending champions on Saturday afternoon at Campo Verde in Gilbert to win its first 5A Division I state girls soccer championship.
“This is amazing, this is everything we ever wanted, everything the seniors ever wanted,” said Huskies' star Riley Johnson, who fed Weiss on the game's only goal. “We worked four years for this. Four years. We are just so happy.”
The Huskies (25-0-1) allowed the Gators to pressure the defense and goalkeeper Laura Glew, but the Huskies' back didn't break, not even with a couple of late chances outside the goal box from Xavier free kick specialist Nichole Walts that could have forced extra minutes.
“Scary every time they get one of those near the 18,” Hamilton coach Jason Thompson said. “I know because she is going to crack it on frame.”
Hamilton had to stave off a couple of the best opportunities on the day for Xavier in the final four minutes.
“They played it right,” Xavier coach Barb Chura said of the Huskies. “They got the goal and then just sat in. We had chances. In the first minute, we put one over the top. You get that, you don't know what's going to happen. We had many, many chances in the first half. It was like, 'Is anybody going to get the goal, is anybody going to get there?' They just kind of stood there. It was like ping pong in there sometimes. It was crazy.”
In the 77th minute, Walts hit a long free kick toward Glew, who had the ball trickle off her hands outside of the goal. The subsequent corner kick went long. In the 79th minute, Walts got another chance at a corner on the opposite side and uncharacteristically kicked it wide right and over the goal.
She got one last chance with 23.8 seconds left from 29 yards out and it hit the football goalpost crossbar just above the goal to signal the end of Xavier's fight.
That may have been the difference for the No. 1 seed on this day – just two seniors started and three freshmen, including Walts, did as well.
Fortifying the backline of Megan Harder, Rachel Shedd and Saira Khan was Johnson, the Huskies best player that normally plays up front or in midfield but became a defender in the second half.
“(Thompson) put me in center back,” Johnson said. “I thought I was going to play forward the whole time. But anything for my team, anything for my team.”
“Anywhere on the field we can trust her,” Weiss said of Johnson.
For Hamilton, Weiss, Johnson and Hannah Kijowski had some quality opportunities against Xavier goalkeeper Isabel Guerra. But all that counted on this day was Johnson finding Weiss behind the defense on a lapse and Guerra coming out, allowing Weiss to get a 14-yard shot on net for the game's only goal.
“She chipped it just like I imagined it in my head and it went into the back of the net," Weiss said. "I just had to get a foot on it.”
Hamilton, which lost in the quarterfinals last year as a No. 3 seed and in the first round as a No. 7 in 2009, beat Xavier 1-0 in overtime on Jan. 19.
“Soccer is a fickle sport,” Chura said. “You can dominate for a lot of the game like we did and not win the game. But we had chances. ... "This is what you love and hate about soccer. You love the game but it is a cruel sport. It is the only sport that you can rightfully dominate and lose.”