By Nick Vitalis for NWAC
TUKWILA, WA --- It took until the last second, but the Highline Thunderbirds took down the Peninsula College Pirates 1-0 in the NWAC women's soccer championships, as two historically dominant defenses battled it out.
In the end, it was Highline's sophomore back-up goalkeeper, Sophia Lear, who scored the winning goal, on what likely would have been the last play of the second overtime period. Lear, put in at forward after star striker Rayna Santiago came out with an injury, received a pass in the box and was able to turn around with it to coolly slot it into the left side of the net to finish the game.
"We told the girls to keep pushing, keep passing, and when we get an opportunity, take advantage of it," Highline assistant coach Masree Butler said. "[Lear] got a good pass, and she took advantage of that opportunity.
Both squads, undefeated to this point, had given up just six goals apiece on the season, making it no surprise that it was a defender, sophomore Hannah Jenkins of Highline, who won the tournament MVP award.
"That girl works so hard, she's a hell of an athlete, hell of a baller," Butler said. "She's genetically gifted. You add on discipline and hard work, it all pans out."
Highline's victory put an end to Peninsula's bid for back-to-back championships after they defeated Clark College 2-0 in 2018.
The play was as billed, with both teams demonstrating the lockdown defense that helped get them to the championship game. Both defenses played compact and deep, snuffing out most offensive pressure quickly, and neither team could seem to maintain consistent possession.
It was a tale of two standout defenders, as freshman Tommylia Dunbar of Peninsula and Jenkins both physically dominated in their end of the field. They both imposed their will, finding a way to break up every play that came their way.
Highline found slightly more success in the first half, getting seven shots off to Peninsula's one, though their only shot on goal came in the second minute.
Peninsula survived that early scare as sophomore goalie Andrea Kenagy fell to the ground blocking a shot that deflected to a Highline forward in the second minute. The subsequent shot off the rebound was blocked by a Peninsula defender, and a quick deficit avoided.
The game opened up a little bit as the first half drew to a close. Both teams had a handful of chances, but none came especially close to scoring.
That trend continued in the second half, as both teams' midfields began to press up the field a bit more, to little avail. The best opportunity either side saw was off of a free kick for Peninsula. Freshman defender Tommylia Dunbar delivered a beautiful ball into the box. The Pirates had three quick chances, but all were blocked or deflected, and the Thunderbirds held on to clear the ball.
The two overtime periods were an entirely different animal. Both teams began racing up and down the field, and in the first minute of the first period, Kenagy made a gusty save to keep the score equal. Santiago maneuvered past the two defenders to earn a one-on-one, but Kenagy blocked the ball, keeping it down and then reaching out to punch it out of the box from the ground. Kenagy finished with an impressive seven saves on the day.
Peninsula continued to pump the box with chance after chance, but in the stoppage time of the end of the second overtime period, it was Highline who came away with the winning shot.
Highline brought one of the more short-handed teams to the tournament, a season-long theme for a Thunderbirds team that struggled for numbers.
"We didn't know how our season was gonna go, we had 10, 11 girls, then 10, then back to 11," Jenkins said. "We didn't know where it was going to take us, then we just kept winning, and winning, and winning.
"We got to the final four, and we said, 'We shouldn't be here, so let's show them why we are.'"
Jenkins summed up the Highline defense simply, and the key to their victory:
"We're filthy, we're nasty, and we don't go down without a fight."