Fourth time the charm?

By Aaron Coe

Herald Writer

SULTAN – The Sultan girls soccer team is hoping they’ve saved their best game against Meridian for last.

There are plenty of reasons to want to win Friday’s Class 2A state semifinal game. Sure, victory would mean playing in Saturday’s title game. That would be dandy and all, but the fact that it would be against Meridian would make it 10 times sweeter.

The Turks are 16-4 this year, but 0-3 against Meridian.

Those three losses were each by one goal, and all three games could have gone either way, the Turks say.

That’s why there is no one Sultan would rather play right now than the Trojans.

How bad do they want to beat Meridian?

“Unexplainably bad,” Sultan forward Heather Howard said. “Revenge is a big, big factor.”

So much so that on the bus ride home from Vancouver after beating Ridgefield 2-1 in a quarterfinal on Saturday, all they could talk about was how they hoped Meridian had won their game. The Trojans made Sultan’s day by edging Eatonville 1-0.

A victory Friday over Meridian and other over the Naches Valley-Cashmere winner on Saturday would make the Turks’ season.

“Hey, if we’re going to beat them once, it might was well be on Friday,” said Sultan coach Andrea Fuller, whose teams played in state championship games in 1997 and ‘98 and have qualified for the state playoffs in five of her six seasons as head coach.

The key to beating Meridian is taming twin sisters Katie and Jennifer Johnson, who form one of the most formidable scoring duos in the state. The Johnsons scored six of the seven goals Sultan allowed to the Trojans this year.

“They are just really good players,” said freshman Erin Roesler, an all-conference sweeper who serves as the last line of defense in front of Sultan goalkeeper Molly Cramer. “They’re hard to stop.”

Sultan’s defense, which has shut out 13 of its 20 opponents this season, has gotten better each time it has faced Meridian. First came a 4-3 loss on Sept. 18. Then a 2-1 loss on Oct. 13.

The third loss, which came in the championship game of the league playoffs, might have been the most frustrating for the Turks. They had plenty of opportunities to score, but simply could not punch one in. Fuller says the defense has been fine against Meridian, but the Turks must take advantage of scoring chances.

“We need to test their keeper on the turf,” Fuller said. “If we can play the same defensive game as we did (in the league championship game) at Edmonds, I’ll be happy. It’s a matter of converting our offensive opportunities.”

Though the 18-1 Trojans will be tough, Sultan is used to playing stiff competition. The Turks beat Ridgefield – at team that had allowed only three goals all season – 2-1 in the quarterfinal. And, of course there are those three Meridian games.

The North Cascades conference has been one of the state’s toughest Class 2A soccer leagues for several years. Conference teams have finished fourth or better in the tournament four out of the last five seasons.

Howard, who has scored 21 goals this season, is the player the Trojans must stop in order to beat Sultan for the fourth time this season. The junior forward scored 15 goals in Sultan’s first 10 games, but has battled ankle and other injuries during the second half of the year. Howard scored only six goals in the last 10 games, but says she will be at full strength Friday.

“It’s not going to bother me,” Howard said. “We want this game really bad.”

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