Oregon Episcopal School and Catlin Gabel met in the OSAA 3A/2A/1A girls soccer final on a brisk, blustery Saturday morning at Liberty HS in Hillsboro and the result was the same as it has been the previous three years: a win for OES over its district rivals.
Olivia Giannini, one of five OES seniors who has been on varsity since being part of a talented core of freshmen in 2015, scored in the sixth minute on a free kick from just outside the box and the Aardvark defense made it stand up in the 1-0 OES win, the fifth title in a row for the Aardvarks and seventh over the past eight years.
The win for OES (15-2) avenged two regular-season losses to the Eagles (16-1-1), who suffered defeat for the first time this season.
“We talked about being the aggressor from the start and I didn’t think we were,” said Catlin Gabel coach Chris Dorough, the coach for the Eagles in all four defeats. “We struggled a little bit. I think the nerves got the better of us and, again, we’re playing a team that has gotten the better of us for a few years and they showed what it’s like to win a final.”
Oregon Episcopal prevailed despite playing the final short-handed. One four-year senior, center back Joanna Cloutier, was injured in the quarterfinal win over Brookings-Harbor. Another senior, goalkeeper Maya Lawliss, went down in the team’s first-round win over Dayton. You would never have known that the Aardvarks were playing without their two most vocal players and the leaders of the defense because they pitched a shutout against the potent Catlin Gabel offense, which had averaged more than seven goals per match through four playoff victories.
“My defense played fantastic,” said senior Rachel Lowell, a defender turned goalkeeper for this match. “It was a very young back line with two sophomores and two freshmen. Neither of the freshmen had much experience playing the back line but they stepped up and were very organized. The shut out is thanks to them.”
“It’s not surprising but it’s definitely rewarding for the players who had to step up and take on bigger roles for the team,” noted OES head coach Justan Wolvert. “When players went down it was next man up. I’m very proud of the girls for doing that.”
From the opening kickoff, the reigning champions looked like the calmer team. They dominated possession and passed with deftness and purpose. Slick ball control, from Giannini to senior Stephanie Finley to senior Emily Ford, produced a corner kick in the third minute and was a hint at what was to come.
Three minutes later, Catlin Gabel was whistled for a hand ball just outside of its box. Giannini executed the perfect free kick from 19 yards out, beating Catlin Gabel’s all-star goalie, Ally Priest, high and to her left.
“The right side of the box, the top of the 18, that’s kind of my spot,” said Giannini. “I take a lot of free kicks there. I’m left-footed. Ally’s a great keeper but I knew high was her weakness and aimed for the right corner with a little bend.”
The goal was only the seventh Catlin Gabel had yielded all season and the first allowed since the playoffs began. It also was the only goal OES would score against its rivals in 240 minutes this year. But what a goal it was!
The stunning deficit seemed to awaken Catlin Gabel from its early-game blahs. Four minutes after going down, it appeared that the Eagles had found the right stuff to equalize, when sophomore Sophie Wand, the district MVP, struck a powerful shot with her left foot from distance that rode the prevailing win toward the OES goal.
Lowell, who hadn’t played more than a half or two in goal her entire life, retreated, leapt and got the tiniest piece of the ball, which clanged hard off of the cross bar.
“I know [Wand] has an excellent shot,” Lowell explained. “I stepped back and was able to tip it onto the bar. It was scary. I was glad my center back was there to clear it away after it went off the bar.”
Midway through the first half, Catlin Gabel had another chance to tie when Kendrick Dahlin sent a pass to Caroline Cook into the box. The shot, however, was blocked by the defense. One minute after that, Annika Holliday sent a through ball to a steaking Dahlin, but Lowell came off of her line to smother it before the freshman could get off a shot.
Ann Louise Naito created two more chances in the half for Catlin Gabel with spirited runs down the right side, but the OES defense, anchored by Lowell in goal and Kendall Killian, Grace Armstrong, Wylly Willmott and Olivia McCoog on the back line, were more than up to the task.
The OES offense, meanwhile, produced a couple of quality chances to extend the lead to two goals. With Giannini and Ford doing yeoman work in the midfield and Finley showing off her athleticism on attack, the Aardvarks put considerable pressure on the Eagle defense. Twice they shot the ball over the cross bar, including a rush in the 39th minute that started with Marlie Giles’ kick into the unpredictable wind. Priest came up to get a hand on the bouncing ball but could not control it as it caromed away on the artificial turf towards an Oregon Episcopal attacker, who was unable put a perfect strike on it.
The second half was much more physical than the first, as Catlin Gabel worked hard to create the chance to tie. Emma Sadle, in the midfield, and Sophia Spry, playing right back, both distinguished themselves with strong play. Spry created the best scoring opportunity for the Eagles, sending a deep ball in the 66th minute near Dahlin in the box, but the freshman could do nothing with it. Sadle and Wand also had dangerous crosses for Catlin Gabel that did not produce shots on goal.
Oregon Episcopal, which twice had to rally from behind in the semifinals to defeat St. Mary’s of Medford, 6-5, in overtime, had a great chance to get an insurance goal in the 56th minute, when Giannini made a nifty pass to Finley going hard to the goal. She got to the ball just ahead of a charging Priest but did not have a lot on it as it bounded toward the goal. But the ball lost its energy and was cleared away before crossing the line. Another chance, on a free kick from 27 yards out by Killian, sailed over the cross bar one minute later.
As the game wound down, Oregon Episcopal hunkered down. Catlin Gabel tried to press the attack but was rebuffed at every turn. The Eagles won the previous two times the teams played this year. Today was just OES’ day.
“I thought as the game went on we got ourselves a little more into it but they also got that goal and defended really well,” said Dorough. “After falling behind it fell into their game plan where they didn’t have to attack as much and they disrupted us pretty well.”
“It was a hard-fought game, more of a battle than a match,” said Wolvert. “When you get to this point it’s not the pretty team that wins or even the team that plays the best. We put a shot in; they hit the cross bar. It’s a game of inches.”
Wolvert said that playing a tough semifinal against St. Mary’s while Catlin Gabel was dominating Blanchet Catholic, 9-0, in the other semifinal, definitely helped his team.
“We learned a lot about ourselves that game,” he explained. “In the two previous matches against Catlin we couldn’t battle back from adversity after going down and we had to battle back a couple of times against St. Mary’s. So I think it did wonders for us.”
Giannini said that beating St. Mary’s without two injured starters gave her hope that OES could defeated Catlin Gabel to win it all.
“Once we won that game in Medford I had a new outlook on this team and the will and perseverance that they had,” she explained. “We have a lot of people who have never stepped on this field before to play for a state championship and them being able to come out and play with such coolness and calmness is amazing.”