Spudders topped the top-three seeds in the state tournament to win it all, and days later, they are recall the memories they made on the field and back home with the community
The accomplishment will be part of the record book forever.
The Ridgefield Spudders not only won the Class 2A state championship in girls soccer, they did so by beating the No.1, No. 2, and No. 3 seeds to advance through the bracket, to stand alone.
The celebration Saturday night at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma lasted a bit. Then the team celebrated more in the parking lot. And again at a fast food restaurant.
But it was a couple hours later when they got home when it really hit home what they had just done.
The vans carrying the Spudders were given a police escort from the exit off of Interstate 5. Students and other community members were waiting at the school. The Spudders rang the victory bell at the school, and they did not even wait until Monday to deliver the state championship prize. That thing went into the trophy case that night.
“We locked that in there,” Nora Martin said.
It is Ridgefield’s forever.
The Spudders are sharing their success, this whole experience, with the community.
“Our town!” Ellie Petersen said, recalling what it was like to pretty much have a mini parade Saturday night to the campus.
“Police lights were flashing everywhere,” added Ava Kruckenberg.
For a lot of the fall sports season, the school’s powerhouse volleyball team and playoff-bound football team got a lot of love. This was soccer’s night, though.
“For us to come out on top and everybody to show up here and celebrate us was really cool,” Madison Ruddy said.
On Tuesday, some members of the championship squad sat down with Clark County Today to talk about the tournament, the comeback in the championship match, the intensity of penalty kicks with a title on the line, and the experience of winning the state title.
The Spudders were feeling good about themselves heading into state after winning the District 4 tournament. So they were taken aback when the state bracket was announced.
“We all felt like we got a little bit robbed with the 7-seed,” Kruckenberg said. “Especially after winning a district title. How did we end up as the seventh seed? We knew we had the underdog story going for us.”
Petersen said it did not take her long to dismiss the seeding committee’s decision. The number in front of the team meant nothing to her.
“I’m not even looking at rankings,” Petersen said. “It’s just teams. That’s all I’m looking at.”
Ridgefield crushed the 10-seed in the opening round, topping Sequim 9-0.
Then it was a who’s who of soccer around the state. And Ridgefield was about to put its name above all else.
The Spudders beat No. 2 Fife in the quarterfinals.
Then came the big one. No, not the championship match. The semifinals against defending state champion and league rival Columbia River. You know, the team that has had Ridgefield’s number through the years.
On Friday, though, it was Ridgefield getting the job done, 1-0 against the No. 3 seed. Keaira Farley scored the goal in that match.
Farley said that there are very few chances to score against a quality team such as Columbia River. She said she knew she had to capitalize on the opportunity.
“We were kind of on a high after beating River,” Kruckenberg said. “I know we all have really bad experiences (against River). We really get in our heads when we play River. Once it was over, I wasn’t thinking we had a game the next day, to be honest. The victory was beating them because they are an amazing team.”
The Spudders know that having Columbia River in the same league makes everyone better.
“River is so good. They are such a good team, and I’ll give them so much credit,” Petersen said. “If we can beat River, I wasn’t worried about the championship game.”
The focus was there. The Spudders were destined to become state champions.
In order to do that, though, they would have to beat the top seed, West Valley of Spokane.
Ridgefield controlled possession for most of the match but trailed 1-0 in the second half. Even after tying the match, West Valley scored on an own goal for a 2-1 lead late in regulation.
“It was super frustrating. You could see we were the better team. We all knew going into that game that we were going to win,” Martin said.
But the score, and the clock, suddenly were on West Valley’s side.
“Nothing changed for me,” Martin said. “I still had the feeling we were going to win. I knew that this team had what it takes. We have so much grit and so much passion for the game and for each other. We were going to come out on top. It was just more about how hard we are willing to work in the next four minutes to get another goal.”
“We refuse to say it’s over until that final whistle blows,” Petersen added. “I literally lost my voice, saying ‘We ain’t done yet.’ That was something we kept saying. ‘We ain’t done yet.’ I just knew we were going to win.”
That focus comes from coaching, too. The players noted that Steven Evans has their back, and keeps them in the right frame of mind.
“He always says ‘Keep your highs low and your lows high,” goalkeeper Gabriela Semlick said.
Ellie Wilson would score the equalizer. Ruddy got the assist on the play. Ruddy said she was determined to make it up to her team. She said she held herself accountable for the own goal that gave West Valley the late lead just a few minutes earlier.
No quit in the Spudders, though. The match was all tied after regulation, and no one scored in the two five-minute overtime periods. It would be penalty kicks for the championship.
Time for the next Ridgefield hero to step into the spotlight.
Semlick said her dad predicted what was about to happen. He told her that this match was going to come down to PKs, and that Semlick was going to make two saves. He even correctly predicted that those saves would be in the first and fourth rounds.
Sure enough, that’s how it went down.
“The coolest part is it goes dead silent in your head,” Semlick said of being a keeper during penalty kicks. “Then you just hear the crowd screaming.”
Her save in the fourth round maintained a 2-1 PK lead for Ridgefield.
“That gave us all goosebumps,” Martin said.
“I think I blacked out because I screamed so loud,” Kruckenberg said.
“Nothing bonds a team quite like PKs,” Petersen said. “All of us were holding on for dear life.”
Kruckenberg emerged from her “blackout” to prepare for the chance to win the championship with her kick in the fifth round.
“It was really scary, but it was a confidence boost because I know that my coach has faith in me and I always have faith in myself, too,” Kruckenberg said. “Once I stepped up to the line, I told myself I know that this is going in. I know where I’m going every time. Even if this goalkeeper dives the right way, I’m making it because I’m solid like that. My coach knows I’m solid. My teammates know I’m solid. I know what’s going to happen when I make this shot, and that’s exactly what we came here to do.”
And then …
A slight pause.
The celebration was not instant.
“The ref told me to wait for three whistles,” Kruckenberg said.
The ball hit the net.
“This game is over, right? We won, right? We all stopped and stared at each other,” Kruckenberg recalled. “Then we heard the third whistle and it was like fireworks exploded in my head. It was crazy.”
“It was a beautiful moment,” Farley said. “I’ll remember that forever.”
Now into Thanksgiving Week, the Ridgefield Spudders have a lot to be thankful for after this championship season.
Farley said every player on the team is her inspiration.
“You can just feel it between everyone. Everyone is connected, pushing each other to do better,” Farley said.
The seniors are coming to terms with the fact that high school soccer has concluded for them.
“When I went to practice … it didn’t feel like I had to be there. It was something I got to do. It was a privilege,” Petersen said. “It was a privilege to get to know every single girl and make these memories.”
Ruddy went to private school before high school. She said this soccer program allowed for her to make fast and lifelong friends.
“It’s not even about winning state. Obviously that’s incredible, too,” Kruckenberg said. “I’m always going to remember my senior season of high school soccer and how much fun I had and how much I love everybody I was playing with.”
Martin is one of the 11 juniors on the roster. She said she is looking forward to the challenge next year as defending state champions.
“I think the team needs to stay close. Our coach, he knows how to lead us,” Martin said. “I think everyone is so skillful. The pressure of carrying the state title won’t knock us down. We’re going to stay steady.”
After this season, after beating No. 3, No. 2, and No. 1, and after trailing in the championship match with just minutes to play, the Ridgefield Spudders will always know that if they stick together, they can achieve excellence.
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