Almost 100 minutes into a battle with Tualatin, the Jesuit girls soccer team needed a spark on offense or risk Tuesday night’s Class 6A semifinal game going to a penalty kick shootout.
At the 95th minute, Kaitlyn Maclennan sent a corner kick into the box. After a little bit of shuffling among players, Jesuit’s Abigail Cox got a left foot on the ball and sent it into the goal to give the Crusaders a 1-0 lead.
The goal was enough as Jesuit won the game 1-0 over the Timberwolves to advance to the Class 6A championship game on Saturday. The Crusaders will face West Linn in a battle of unbeaten teams.
“It was everything we expected and more,” Jesuit coach Steve Fennah said of Tuesday night’s battle with Tualatin. “I thought we played really well. As well as we played all year. And we had to because we know how talented and well-coached they are.”
When talking about that game-winning goal, Cox said her shot wasn’t really set up but she just knew the Crusaders needed to get on the scoreboard.
“It was kind of frantic. We knew we had to put it in the back of the net,” Cox said.
The game saw both defenses play lights out on Tuesday night. In the first half of the game, the Jesuit attack controlled most of the play, with Tualatin’s defense allowing the Crusaders to advance the ball but stopped most looks at the goal.
“They battled every step of the way,” Fennah said.
The Crusaders’ best shot in the first half came from Maclennan, who sent a shot from range into the right bar.
In the second half, the Crusaders continued to push the tempo as the Tualatin defense locked down every attack.
“I think they’re just very good, defensively,” Fennah said of the Timberwolves. “They did set back a little more, certainly in the first half, and try to get us on the break. I think that was probably the idea of the second half. … But chances were few and far between.”
But Fennah made sure to praise the Crusaders’ defense as well. Jesuit held the Timberwolves scoreless for the first time since Oct. 21 and just the second time all season. Tualatin had been averaging 2.3 points per game in the postseason before Tuesday.
“I thought, defensively, we were very, very good,” he said.
Cox agreed that the defense was a big part of the Crusaders’ win on Tuesday.
“We have some top tier players back there,” Cox said. “We all work hard and we got the results today.”
Many of the players for Jesuit are headed to the state championship game for the first time. In fact, many of Jesuit’s players haven’t had the chance to have a deep run in the state tournament yet, as the 2020 season was affected by COVID-19 and the Crusaders were upset in the second round of the state tournament last fall.
And not only do the Crusaders lack playoff experience, they are simply a young team. Jesuit’s roster includes four freshman and six sophomores, including starting goalkeeper Zoe Anderson and Maclennan at midfield.
But Fennah said he’s not worried about his team’s lack of experience, and praised his team’s leadership for raising the level of play in high-pressure situations like Tuesday’s game.
“People have been talking about that all week. We’re young and experience counts at this time of the year,” Fennah said. “But even though we’re young, in (Audrey Kent) and (Eva Grunkemeier), our two senior captains have done a great job of leadership and bringing the youngsters in. And Abby Cox has stepped up big time.”
Cox said the key to the Crusaders’ successes despite their youth has been trust.
“We have trust in each other,” she said. “And we know that we have to fight for each other. It just comes down to we’re one big family. We know that, and we’ve had some stressful games and we’ve just persevered.”
Fennah added that Jesuit’s young roster might be playing to its benefit, in fact.
“There’s an enthusiasm about youth because there’s no fear,” Fennah said.
The Crusaders haven’t been to the state championship game since 2019, when they finished a run of three straight championships. Jesuit has won 14 girls soccer state titles, more than any other big school and is second only to Catlin Gabel (15) statewide.
— Nik Streng, email@example.com, @NikStreng