Division III soccer | Incline girls fall short of three-peat
ZEPHYR COVE — After falling short in the state championship each of the past two seasons, the Whittell girls soccer team delivered on the big stage. The top-seeded Warriors started fast and held off second-seeded Incline 3-1 in the Division III state championship Saturday on their home field, ending the Highlanders’ run of back-to-back championships.
“It was a pretty even game — they got the bounces and we didn’t,” said Incline coach Tom Canino, whose Highlanders defeated the Warriors each of the past two years for the title. “Sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
Whittell (18-1) opened the scoring in the first half, but its first big play came courtesy of goalkeeper Lauren George. Incline (15-6) drew a foul in the box that resulted in a penalty kick — George moved right as Highlanders junior forward Vanessa Andrade struck the ball, and had to stretch back to the middle of the goal to make a stunning kick save in the eighth minute that kept the game scoreless.
“She has been a dancer for her whole life and she made a dancer’s save — it was an unbelievable save,” said Incline coach Patrick Kelly.
The Warriors struck on their first shot of the match, capitalizing on a Highlanders turnover to take a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute. Forward Kenya Maltase took a flicked through-ball from forward Ali Copsy and hit a low shot that struck the inside of both posts before fully crossing the line.
The match was back and forth from the outset, and Incline needed only six minutes to pull even after the Warriors’ score. Andrade broke free for a one-on-one situation against George, and slid the ball past Whittell’s keeper to make it 1-1 in the 20th minute.
Five minutes later, the Warriors answered to jump back in front. Copsy stole the ball in the attacking third and fired a driven shot from 20 yards out that landed in the lower right corner of the goal — the sophomore’s team-leading 26th goal of the season gave Whittell a 2-1 lead it would take into the break.
Incline turned up the pressure at the start of the second half, and controlled play while Whittell clung to its one-goal lead. In the 57th minute, a long pass left Andrade alone in the box and she launched a shot toward goal from close range — but the strike fired off the crossbar and the Warriors stayed in front.
“Vanessa hit the crossbar from point blank — if that ball goes in, it’s a totally different game,” Canino said. “We put the pressure on, but it was there for us to take.”
Three minutes after the Highlanders’ near-goal, Whittell found the back of the net to take a commanding two-goal lead. Midfielder Sabrina Trachsel hit a shot from outside the box that bounced off the hands of Incline goalkeeper Karyss Thompson and across the line — after the 60th minute score, the Warriors were able to close out the two-time defending champs en route to victory.
“We let a dribbler get in and that was tough — we played hard after that, but that gave them some momentum,” Canino said. “We weren’t playing in their end as much after that.”
For Whittell, the championship marked its second state title in program history and first since 2002. Incline, meanwhile, finished one win shy of a three-peat after defeating North Tahoe, 5-4, in the semifinal round.
“Obviously, that’s hard,” Canino said of the Highlanders’ streak coming to an end. “We did not necessarily have all that easy of a season. We graduated six seniors last year, so it was very much rebuilding — it took us a while to jell.
“We played our best soccer at the end — hats off to Whittell to beat us with our best team on the field.”
In their semifinal win over North Tahoe, Andrade scored three goals to help lead the Highlanders to a 5-4 win. Freshman Belle Johnson and senior Caitlin May scored a goal apiece.