The Flagstaff Eagles girls soccer team enters the 4A Conference playoffs as a top-five seed once again, and head coach Holly Jones has her team set on another chance at the state title.
Last season the Eagles fell in the finals to Salpointe Catholic, 3-0. The year before, the Eagles lost to Salpointe on penalty kicks in the semifinal round. Two straight seasons of falling just shy of the title despite being a top seed has the fourth-seeded Eagles hungry.
The Eagles will host No. 13-seeded Estrella Foothills in the first round Saturday. Flagstaff took a 2-0 win over the Wolves earlier in the season.
Flagstaff finished the regular season as the Grand Canyon Region champions, going 10-1-1 overall and a perfect 6-0 in region play. The lone loss came to the 4A’s top team, Thunderbird, back in December, 8-5, in the Valley. Flagstaff’s tie came against the tournament's No. 2 seed, Arcadia, about a week after the Thunderbird loss.
The loss and the draw showed Jones a few things.
First off, she believes the Eagles can beat anyone, and, secondly, her team could also get beat if they aren't careful.
“I keep telling them on any given day we can beat the best team in the state or the best teams, and also on any given day we could get beat, too,” Jones said. “So I really want them to know that yes, you’re good enough to win it this year, but we have to make sure we all are playing our best every game to make that happen. When we lost to Thunderbird we had some key players out with injury, so we started the season with players out and I feel fortunate that we have those players back.”
“We have to have that winner’s mentality in everything that we do and we have to be ready to handle possibly going down,” Jones added.
Jones repeatedly said that once the state tourney rolls around, it could mean one game and the season is over. For a team that only has three seniors, the younger players have had to learn what changes come tournament time.
“I think the upperclassmen have been doing the best job they can in letting the underclassmen know that state starts a whole new chapter and it's win and continue or lose and you’re done, that ends your season,” Jones said. “Most teams end their season with a loss and the select few that don’t are the champions.”
Two of those upperclassmen, Lydia Pelletier-Butler and Brianna White, have done enough on the field to earn some hardware. Pelletier-Butler was named the Grand Canyon Region defensive player of the year and White was named the region’s offensive player of the year. Although a junior, this season is White’s final year playing soccer for the Eagles because she plans on finishing her final year of high school abroad.
White led the Eagles in assists with 15 and in total points with 43. Her 14 goals were second on the team to Samantha Slaughter's 16.
“It's always hard to step into that leadership role and I think both of those players stepped up in just helping the team on and off the field,” Jones said. “ … In the back Lydia has really stepped up to make sure that’s secure and she’s the one communicating because we have a freshman goalkeeper. At any point in time we go down, Bri kinda takes ownership of that and you can see her game really step up, and she’s not willing to lose -- which I love to see.”
Flagstaff had four players named to the Grand Canyon All-Region first team in White, Slaughter, Pelletier-Butler and Zalma Batrez-Cardoza. Maya Shearon, Mayrin Soto and Brisa Arangure represent the Eagles on the Grand Canyon All-Region second team. Lianna Albert and Anna Harmon were named honorable mentions.
The Eagles have rolled out a freshman goalie this season, as Jones said, and Albert as done well in the net for Flagstaff. Flagstaff has seven shutouts this season and holds a 60-14 goal differential on the year.
Saturday’s game is set for 11 a.m. at Flagstaff High School.