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Liberty woke up the Mavericks, now Mountainside is focused, ready for road ahead

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Mountainside girls soccer team took down Cleveland in the Class 6A second round on Tuesday.

When the Class 6A girls' playoff soccer field was unveiled, revealing Mountainside and Jesuit were on opposite sides of the bracket, many inquiring minds immediately penciled in the two Metro League powers as state finalists.

After all, with strong squads such as West Salem and Sherwood on Jesuit's side of the spectrum and the Crusaders showing no signs of slowing down, it appeared Mountainside could mosey onto Hillsboro Stadium for another date with the two-time champs. Even with South Eugene grabbing the second seed, a long road trip wouldn't rattle the third-ranked Mavericks.

Then the first five minutes of Mountainside's first round match with Liberty transpired. The Falcons scored first, setting off small alarm bells amongst the state title dreaming Mavericks. Mountainside went on and handled Pacific Conference counterpart, 5-1, but the overlying message was loud and clear. The Mavericks are no longer the cute up and comer capable of sneaking up on teams. They are the hunted with targets on their backs. Clichés be damned, the Mavericks know they have to handle one team at a time. First, they clapped Cleveland 5-0 with an all-encompassing second round showing. Now they host fifth-ranked West Linn in the quarterfinals on Saturday at a time to be determined.

"In high school soccer playoffs anything can happen," Mountainside senior Nedya Sawan said. "What happened against Liberty was a good wakeup call for us. That's why we came out today and dominated from the beginning. We got those playoff nerves out of the way."

Since that first Liberty goal, Mountainside has planted both feet in the ground and focused on the here and now. Their long-term goals are the same as they were in August, but they're not looking ahead if you will.

"At halftime (of the Liberty game) everyone was kind of shocked," Mountainside senior goalie Sidney O'Billovich said. "We knew we needed to flip the switch. We just have to stay focused, stay on our toes and play how we play. We can't play too direct and we need to play with each other because that's what we do best: playing to feet and finding the perfect through balls. We just have to stay calm and composed."

The Liberty game was a learning experience for a team that still only sports four seniors including O'Billovich and Sawan. Human nature suggests it's hard to stay centered on the present, especially with such a juicy matchup looming down the road. The stars aligned so an All-Metro final could occur. But Mountainside can't skip steps.

"When we start to think ahead, we struggle," O'Billovich said. "It's really easy to do that. We just have to take one step at a time. If we don't, something bad could happen and of course, we don't want that to happen just because we've worked so hard for everything we've been doing."

Sawan said Liberty did a great job of holding up Mountainside, identifying the Mavericks' strengths and exploiting the Metro runner up's weaknesses, at least early on. Ultimately, the Mavericks' talent level won out. West Linn won't be as easy of a challenge. Neither will South Eugene, on the road, after a two-hour bus ride, should Mountainside make it back to the semis.

"Every team we face is going to be tough on us," Sawan said. "We can't relax at any point."

The Mavericks are keenly aware of these newfound hurdles as evidenced by their outpouring against Cleveland. Mountainside took the fight to the PIL opponent from the jump, scoring two goals in the first couple of minutes of action. Sawan, freshman Nina Rhode and junior Kylah Williams all scored in the second half as the game opened up and the Mavericks were able to make a living in the final third of the field. It was the kind of quality play that can carry through the next few rounds. It was the kind of quality play that can carry through the next few rounds. Mountainside, in just its second year of varsity action and first campaign with seniors on the roster, has made the 6A quarters for the second straight year. It's a great accomplishment, one the Mavs will look back on fondly regardless of how the rest of the postseason plays out. But mushy sentimentality is lost with this team. They're chasing higher ground, the holy grail of girls' soccer, and now have the right mindset to grab it.

"We're always super excited about winning in the playoffs, but we also have a really high expectation," O'Billovich said. "We know where we need to be and how far we need to get and where we want to get."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside senior Nedya Sawan and freshman Nina Rhode celebrate a Maverick goal against Cleveland.

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