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Flagstaff boys and girls soccer enter playoffs with experience and youth leading squads
FLAGSTAFF EAGLES SOCCER

Flagstaff boys and girls soccer enter playoffs with experience and youth leading squads

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For the second straight year, the Flagstaff boys and girls soccer teams head into postseason play after dominant showings in the regular season.

The boys are led by a hungry group of seniors hoping to get over the hump of last season’s semifinal exit, while the girls squad has excelled despite its youth.

Here’s a look at how each team stacks up heading into the 4A Conference state championship tournament's first round Saturday:

SENIORS HUNGRY FOR MORE

Alex Grieder and a group of 13 seniors paced the Eagles to a 12-1 regular season, with the lone loss coming against fellow top-eight squad Arcadia (11-2) in a one-goal decision.

The hunger by the group to get over the hump of last season’s 4-1 loss to eventual 4A champion Salpointe Catholic has been clear all season to Eagles head coach Mike Jenkins.

There are some nerves, but that's normal, Jenkins said.

"It's been a good week of practice and everyone is just excited to get going," Jenkins said Thursday. "Everyone gets a little nervous until the whistle blows."

The boys are 5-1 on the year in matches decided by just a single goal, showing their resilience in close calls and proving to their head coach that they are ready for whatever the rest of the 4A throws at them in the playoffs.

They hold the No. 5 seed and will face the 12th-seeded Sahuaro Cougars, who won their play-in match, 3-1, at home over Thunderbird on Thursday to snap a two-game skid.

For Jenkins, it's about the way his team dealt with adversity this season.

"Our team has been facing adversity a little bit here and there," Jenkins said. "All season long, whether it's been knee injuries, a grades situation, or I had one player miss a game because he had a death in the family, it's been one of those things where we have gone through adversity, and all that has come out to a positive. We are still just as strong and everyone is gaining that trust with each other."

Sahuaro finished its regular season with a 7-5 overall mark and a 3-2 record in the Kino Region.

Flagstaff's Saturday afternoon match is set for a 3 p.m. start that follows the Eagles girls game, slated for 1 p.m. at Flagstaff High School.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

A season ago as the fourth seed, the Eagles were beaten 4-0 in the state quarterfinals by No. 5 Catalina Foothills, which ended as state runner-ups.

Much like the boys squad, the girls are itching for a bit more this season.

The Eagles, who went 10-2 overall and 5-1 in the Grand Canyon Region, were in need of someone to step up when star senior Samantha Slaughter was lost early in the season to a knee injury, and they got just that.

"It's a neat group because they get along so well," Eagles head coach Holly Jones said on Thursday. "They are just so coachable, so it's been a really fun season. With them being so young, they aren't really sure what to expect. But I am OK with that because sometimes just going out there and playing every game like it can be your season's last is all it takes."

With a roster made up of just five upperclassmen -- essentially the polar opposite of the boys squad -- Jones and the third-seeded Eagles have gutted out some close calls as well.

They'll face a test with a No. 14-seeded Gila Ridge team that just made its way into the play-in round, which it won 4-1 over Lee Williams on Thursday at home.

Lee Williams was topped 5-1 by Flagstaff this season in Flagstaff, as the teams reside in the Grand Canyon Region.

Gila Ridge went 7-4-1 this season overall and won its region with a 3-0 record.

Flagstaff is 3-0 in matches decided by three goals or fewer and had a similar close call against crosstown rival Coconino in the regular-season finale when the Eagles were held scoreless until late into the second half.

Jones is taking the youth as a positive aspect, and she sees it as a chance for the girls to keep growing.

"Just them going out and playing every game like it could end the season, I think, is a positive for us," Jones said.

Lance Hartzler can be reached at 556-2251 or at lhartzler@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @lance_hartz.

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