HELENA — Last year, the Shodair Soccer Classic treated fans to a pair of shootouts, both won by the East.
On Saturday, the East boys and girls again took the Shodair sweep – this time, in dominant fashion. The girls got the evening started with the East shutting out the West, 3-0. The boys game got even more out of hand, though, with the East winning 8-2.
The East girls, after having a point-blank shot denied in the opening minutes, saw their second quality scoring chance ring off the crossbar midway through the first half. The foot behind that kick belonged to Billings Skyview’s Jessica Spang.
Spang had another open look seven minutes later, though. And this time she made good, sending her shot in low. It looked like that, too, would be stopped, but when Missoula Sentinel’s Jessica Henning overran the play, the ball squirted in to give the East a 1-0 lead.
“After that first one, I just got more pumped and more determined to get another one,” said Spang, who is headed to play for MSU Billings in the fall. “It wasn’t pretty, but a goal’s a goal.”
The East nearly netted another with nine minutes left in the half, but a few minutes later cashed in when Billings Senior’s Maddy Emerick punched one in.
The West managed to settle down at the half and, through the final 40 minutes, looked much better offensively, working the middle and getting some good looks. But the East still maintained control, possessing through most of the game.
That dominance led to the third goal, seconds after an initial shot clanged off the far post. That’s when Belgrade’s Serena Klopp, in close and center of the net, lifted a rainbow of a shot up, over and in.
The West squad did get several more quality shots, but were stopped each time. Sara Heard (Senior) earned the first-half shutout for the East, while Katrina Baumgartner (Laurel) made the stops in the second – allowing Heard to play on the field for a chunk of time in the second half.
The West’s most exciting chance came in the final minutes, when Glacier’s Kendall Halliburton came out of her end, streaking down the sideline. She got past two defenders in the offensive zone and, eventually, a diving Baumgartner. But she ran out of field, the keeper tangling her up near the end line. Halliburton was able to keep her feet and turn to head back into shooting position, but Baumgartner also recovered, sliding over to cover the ball and end the threat.
Despite the loss, Capital’s Elly Priddy – who will play soccer at North Idaho College – enjoyed the week.
“It was awesome. We bonded so well,” she said. “Even the girls from Hamilton and Corvallis and stuff, we were in each other’s rooms until 1 in the morning. And we had so much fun. I’m still sore from laughing.
“We play crosstown here and we absolutely love the Carroll field. It was unfortunate that we lost, but it was so awesome to get to be here one more time.”
Winning the MVP award for the girls game was Gabi Heflin from Billings Senior. The forward will continue her soccer career at Rocky Mountain College, and said she was a bit surprised by the honor.
“Yeah, I had no idea that would happen,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t even know they gave an MVP award! It’s a great way of ending everything. It’s a great memory.”
East boys 8, West 2
While the girls were certainly focused and playing hard, the start of the boys game showed that the level of energy would be even higher in the nightcap.
The action was back and forth, with the West’s Kyle Higgins (Missoula Hellgate) tripped up as he charged the net. Awarded a penalty shot, he fired it just inside the left post and the “home” team was up early, 1-0.
But just 90 seconds later, the East responded. Eli Herman (Bozeman) brought the ball in on the left, swinging into the center of the field before unleashing a kick that bent perfectly right to left, wrapping into the net to tie it up.
The frenetic pace continued, as the East’s Sam Phillips wound up being awarded a penalty kick a minute and a half later. He went high center and hit the back of the net, giving his team a lead it would only build upon.
A scrum in front of the net resulted in another goal – awarded to Billings Central’s Zach Wall. Following a corner kick, Higgins was able to score again to make it a one-goal game, but from there it turned into a runaway.
Billings Senior’s Mason Luse put the margin back to two, and Wall rang one under the crossbar with two minutes left in the half to push it to a 5-2 East lead.
While he could see where the game was headed, the West’s coach, Helena High’s Carl Straub, still enjoyed the evening with his players.
“The Bozeman/Billings Senior contingent are great players,” he said. “They played at a different level of speed. Those guys looked fantastic.
“But it’s fun just to get to spend some time with them. Coaching them’s great, but off the field they’re all quality people, and that’s what’s really cool. It was fun sitting with them on the bench there at the end of the game. They’re just great people. Really good kids.”
His counterpart, Bozeman’s Hunter Terry, agreed – and said it was a bit of a relief to have some of the state’s top sharpshooters on his roster.
“My favorite part was coaching these kids from other schools and getting to know them. And it was nice to be coaching them to score rather than coaching my team to stop them,” he said with a laugh.
The second half was more of the same, with Phillips – named the game’s MVP – and Luse each adding a second goal. Strom Nuernberger from Billings Senior capped the scoring with 2:41 to play, resulting in the final margin.
“It’s a fun game, and we were really excited to play the West,” said Wall, headed to Rocky this fall. “And it was exciting to get another game together and to play with some people we’ve never played with, too.
“Our chemistry was really good together and everything just clicked. We all talked to each other well. It was phenomenal how we did. It was incredible.”
And it won’t be the last time he’s at Nelson Stadium – which he was also pretty excited about.
“Yeah, I’ll be back. I’m in love with this field, man. I can’t say enough about it. It was amazing to play here.”