Hard work, skill — and a super fan
By Mike Vlahovich
It is difficult to fathom the death of a young person. But then sometimes a Phoenix arises miraculously from the ashes of despair.
Central Valley's girls soccer team gained strength following the death last summer of an ardent supporter. It was as if, following the shock, the Bears were destined to win their first State 4A soccer championship thanks to guidance from their guardian angel, CV grad Jansen Badinger, who tragically drowned in the Spokane River.
The Bears defeated Mead 2-1 in the semifinals and 3-2 over Issaquah for the title. Both wins came via shootout after the teams were tied following regulation and two overtimes.
Badinger had told the team the previous fall that they couldn't lose as long as he was cheering them on.
"He was my super fan and my best friend," said Bears goalkeeper Jessie Kunz-Pfeiffer, who can be seen in team pictures (including those on this page) following the title winning victory over Issaquah holding up a T-shirt in his memory.
"That was the shirt I had made him. Every home game we would hang it on the fence," she continued. "He was a big part of our motivation to win state and he was with us all the time."
Another solid Bears contributor, Alaina Bates, was among the team members who was also close to Badinger. She was swimming with him the day he passed away.
The girls carried the inspiration provided by their "super fan" - not to mention a truckload of talent and a recent history of state tournament runs - into a season that saw them drop only a single match, 3-2 to Mead during the Greater Spokane League season. The team finished 17-1-1 overall.
The Bears outscored opponents 46-19. Freshman Kelsey Turnbow led the team with 20 goals, and senior Savannah Hoekstra had 17 goals and 7 assists.
More importantly, the team won all four shootouts it played in during the season, twice over Mead - in the district finals and state semifinal - and finally over Issaquah for the championship.
Kunz-Pfeiffer is quick to defer any credit for the shootout wins, although it's just her, one-on-one versus opposition penalty kick shooters.
"Shootouts are stressful, but to be honest, the pressure is mainly on the kicker," she said. "I'm not supposed to be able to stop the ball. If I stop one, it's great."
The title game in Puyallup was the last match for Kunz-Pfeiffer, one of four seniors who reaped the rewards of their four-year saga.
"It's been a work in progress, not something that happened just this year," said seventh-year coach Andres Monrroy, who wants his school recognized annually as a statewide force. "My feeling is it is something we have earned. The girls have worked really hard for the last four years, and since then the program has gotten better."
The two previous years CV made the quarterfinals of the 4A state tourney.
The team, he said, determined through hard work last summer to go beyond the second round of state.
In the school's eighth state appearance, and without national U14 team member Turnbow, they won it all.
Winning in her absence made the state championship even sweeter.
"A lot of people don't know she wasn't able to play in the final four," Monrroy said. "She was committed to the national team."
Seniors Kunz-Pfeiffer, forwards Hoekstra, Sara Grozdanich and defender Madison Kinsolving provided the direction for their younger teammates.
"Our leaders, on and off the field, were definitely our seniors," Monrroy said. "They were amazing. They were outspoken and showed by example."
But it took a while for the young defense to gel.
"They improved so much," Monrroy said. "It was not (for lack of skills), but developing the chemistry."
Kunz-Pfeiffer, who sees the entire field and directs the defense ("I'm very vocal," she laughed), said it took time for the new starters to adjust to working together. "Halfway through the season, we really started clicking."
Monrroy said most girls say they are happy just reaching state. For CV it wasn't enough after coming so close the two previous seasons. Even settling for the Final Four wasn't an option.
"Winning state was the culminating project we had," Monrroy says. "It's a feeling you cannot express when you see how the girls are rewarded. The girls very much know it wasn't a shock."
With 10 returning starters, the defense in its entirety, including All-GSL defender McKenna Stocker, all-league midfielder Megan Dimmler and second-team choice Haley Spooner, Monrroy fully expects CV be in the hunt again.
Spooner had moved to midfield because of CV's depth at forward. She was back up front in Turnbow's absence and scored the tying goal in the championship match with two minutes left in regulation that led to the shootout.
When Kunz-Pfeiffer made the final stop in the championship match, she sunk to her knees bawling, then clamored to her feet as Hoekstra raced toward her for a celebratory embrace. She called the victory "Surreal."
The pair had achieved what they sought beginning four years earlier.
A little divine intervention didn't hurt.