The Class AA state soccer tournament starts up Thursday afternoon at the Siebel Fields in Helena. In the boys’ bracket, Missoula Hellgate (10-0-2) is hoping to continue forth their momentum of an undefeated season, but more importantly they're fighting for their second state title in the past three seasons.
"We've felt really confident about this season so far, it's been great and we haven't lost a game,” says Knights senior Garrett Leach. “But with the state tournament now all of that is in the past, we have to focus on what we have to do in the state tournament."
"We're worried about the state title; we could care less about what we did two weeks ago or five weeks ago,” says junior captain Jonathan Taylor. “I think we learned that last year losing both game at state. It doesn't matter what we did during season but at state."
Perhaps the biggest strength of this year's Hellgate team is the experience and leadership with over dozen seniors on this year's roster.
"Better than ever,” says senior forward Kyle Higgins who leads the Western Conference with 19 goals scored this season. “You know most of us are seniors, and there are only three captains but really everyone is a captain out there. We have great leadership throughout the board."
"We have three guys with the arm band but really it's like we have 15 captains on the team,” says head coach Jay Anderson. “They're all proving themselves and they're all really willing to step into whatever role they need to."
"I've had a great four years playing for this Hellgate program, and all of us have and we've all played together for four years and we're looking to go out strong," added Leach.
Hellgate's first opponent of the state tournament will be Butte on Thursday afternoon. Now the Bulldogs might have six losses on the season but the Knights are not going to take this team lightly.
"I know they have a couple very good players that could cause defenses problems and as any typical Butte team they're just a bunch of hard-working kids that can give any team problems," says Anderson.
"I expect that to be a pretty rough game... physical,” added Higgins. “We know Butte is really hard-working but if we do what we do then we shouldn't have any problems."
THURSDAY’S BOYS GAMES (all begin at 12:00 PM)
#1 Hellgate vs #4 Butte
#3 Helena vs #2 Senior
#1 Bozeman vs #4 Sentinel
#3 Great Falls CMR vs #2 Big Sky
Hellgate Girls definitely comeback team of the year
The boys won't be the only Hellgate team still playing postseason soccer this week; the Hellgate girls squad has also earned a spot at the state tournament. The Knights took down rival Sentinel 2-0 in their play-in game last week for their 4th win of this season after not winning a single game last year. They say a trip to the state tournament is a great way to finish out the careers for the plethora of seniors on this year's team.
"We've always felt like we've been close but they really put in the time and the effort and they really felt like this was the year,” says head coach Caroline Lurgio. “And they made it happen with work ethic and determination."
"I've never been to a state tournament. My nine other seniors that have played with me for four years have never been to a state tournament,” explained senior player Allie Trent. “And it is so exciting to finally be able to prove ourselves and be able to go to a state tournament."
"I mean the feeling of finishing that playoff game and knowing that we didn't have to take down the nets was just so phenomenal,” added senior Sarah Willstein. “I think all of us are just taking this with great appreciation and also that excitement, we're just so enthused to be going to our state tournament finally, it's been a long time coming."
THURSDAY’S GIRLS GAMES (begin at 2:30 PM)
#1 Helena vs #4 Skyview
#3 Capital vs #2 Bozeman
#1 Senior vs #4 Hellgate
#3 Great Falls CMR vs #2 Flathead