GILBERT -- The run of close calls came down to one more for the Flagstaff girls soccer team in the state title game.
With the 4A Conference state championship on the line, the third-seeded Eagles played the fourth-seeded Catalina Foothills Falcons to a 0-0 tie after 110 minutes of soccer following regulation, two overtime periods and two more sudden-death periods.
The Eagles needed another gutsy win out of their young group, and got just that as Eagles goalkeeper Lianna Albert made two straight diving saves in penalty kicks and Maryin Soto rifled in the clincher to the top-right post to give the Eagles their first state title since 2011 with a 4-2 win in PKs Tuesday.
The Eagles and Falcons were tied in the PKs at 1-all after each found the back of the net to start, then the Eagles saw a shot go off the crossbar, giving the Falcons a potential chance in Gilbert at neutral site Williams Field High School.
Albert came up with the first of her two saves in the PK situation, but the Eagles couldn't connect on the ensuing chance. She made another diving stop, setting up Brisa Arangure's make to give Flagstaff a 3-1 advantage.
Catalina Foothills got past Albert, but Soto came up with the deciding shot, handing her Eagles the title in the process.
"At first, I was like, 'PKs again?'" Albert said. "But it's the championship game, there is nothing else, and I was like, 'Lianna, you're going to have to push yourself harder than you ever had and just go out there and get the dub.'"
For Eagles head coach Holly Jones, seeing her young crew of 13 underclassmen do what they did -- winning three straight games via PKs in the playoffs -- showed how focused her team was all year.
"There are definitely other ways to win, but that's definitely one way," Jones said. "I'm proud of their mentality, their never-give-up fight. And then in PKs it becomes that focus and that discipline, and I think the discipline and focus we had all season paid off in the end."
Albert was the difference for the Eagles defense yet again, coming up with key rejections all day Tuesday. The sophomore goalkeeper had four saves after regulation alone, including a diving stop off a one-on-one with a Catalina Foothills attacker.
"I did it for my team, honestly," Albert said. "Seeing them celebrate makes me the happiest girl in the world, and I've been craving this title this whole season and knew we could do it from the very beginning. I knew in order to get it for the team I had to do my part, and I just went out there and did it."
As a team the Eagles, who end the season with a 14-2 record against power-point opponents, allowed just three goals in four matches in their state title run, which saw each match decided after regulation.
Throughout the run, Jones saw her green keeper gain more and more confidence as she kept her team surviving rounds.
"I think for her, each game she got that extra confidence and as we kept our state run going, you just saw she was having so much fun with it and gained that confidence and support from the rest of the team," Jones said.
'WE WANT TO WIN'
Last summer, well before the season was set to start, Jones said she was told something she will never forget.
"I'll just remember this summer the seniors called me and they said, 'Hey coach, we want to win a state championship, what's it gonna take?'" Jones said. "So I met with the seniors and they have been focused and done such a great job of leading the young players."
Two years ago, the Eagles fell in the finals to Salpointe Catholic, 3-0, at the same location of this year's title round.
Even though the young Eagles got much of the attention, for Jones there was no denying the work her four seniors showed all season.
For the year Flagstaff went 16-4-1 counting games outside the power-points slate, finishing as runner-up in the Grand Canyon Region behind Prescott, which fell to Catalina Foothills in the state semifinals.
Most of the Eagles roster and production is expected to return, and Jones summed up the expectations for next season simply.
"I think the future is definitely bright."
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