You always want to win, but sometimes it's about the effort.
The Hillsboro girls soccer team comported themselves nicely in defeat in the opening round of the 5A OSAA state playoffs, losing 1-0 Tuesday night, Nov. 5, at No. 2-ranked Corvallis. But while on the wrong end of what was ultimately a losing Spartans effort, head coach Dean Miyama was pleased with his girls' performance in the face of a pretty daunting challenge.
"We showed up," he said after the game. "I think that was one of our best, if not our best games all season."
The Spartans battled from the tip and kept the potent Corvallis – who are also the Spartans — attack off of the board for the bulk of the first half, but as time ticked away in the final minutes of the first half Hillsboro's defense cracked, and Corvallis sophomore Camryn Pugh capitalized, scoring from 25 yards with just 1:44 left on the clock in what was a previously scoreless first half.
"That was bad timing," Miyama said. "That changed things quite a bit. Our goal going in was to keep things close as long as possible and maybe put a little pressure on them, but you know, it happens."
Hillsboro struggled all night creating opportunities on the offensive end, lacking the athleticism to put pressure on the Corvallis defense. Twice in the first half Spartan forward McKenzie Staub made runs at the left side of the home Spartans' back end, but without help deep in the opponents' end, she was left with little more than a fleeting shot from a nearly impossible angle.
The second half offered much the same, with Corvallis pressuring more and in turn, Hillsboro playing primarily from the rear. To their credit however Hillsboro didn't quit, battling a flurry of Corvallis attacks with the help of an inspired effort by visiting Spartan goalie, Amalia Rahf, and the tenacity of a team of players that included Margaret Shively, Emma Blackwell, Emily Mora, Lily-Rose Warren, along with Abbey Placher and more. As a result, they kept just a goal between them and No. 2-ranked Corvallis, and created a couple late free kick opportunities as part of an effort to tie the game in the final minutes. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be, but despite the loss, Miyama was happy with his team's effort not just on this night, but throughout what was a season that got off to a relatively slow start.
"In the beginning of the season we were just getting out-competed," he said. "I think the girls thought they were playing hard, but weren't really. So we worked on that, and they got better and really competed tonight.
"As the game went on, the girls really started to realize they could play with this team and we were in it. That was cool to see."
Miyama was careful with his words when reflecting on the season, but said it was and has always been a goal of his program to make the playoffs every year. In years past, the Sparts have been blessed with a handful of natural soccer players who've offered a formidable challenge for even the state's best teams. But this year's squad is composed of primarily multi-sport athletes, which while a blessing in its own right, makes it a different type of challenge when faced with the state's elite teams, full of high level club players. Having said that, the coach didn't lament the challenge, and in fact embraced and enjoyed what in the end was an awfully fun group to coach.
"I just got done telling the girls that I've been coaching for almost 30 years now and this, I think, is going to be one of my favorite seasons," Miyama said. "The win/loss record might not be that impressive, but what we've been through as a team, where we started and the bumps that we hit along the way to get to this point, it's been great.
"We just played the No. 2-ranked team in the state and held our own, and that's awesome."
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