by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin Timberwolves Alyssa Durdel (2) prevents Sunset Apollos midfielder Nia McFerrin (18) from scoring in the first half of the 6A state girls soccer championship at Hillsboro Stadium.

Minutes after their season came to an unceremonious conclusion in the 6A state championship game against Tualatin, Emmy Owens accepted the second-place trophy on behalf of the Sunset girls’ soccer team, took an unpleasant look at the award and passed it to Elly Williamson.

A discontented Williamson barely touched the trophy before handing it to a tearful Taylor Luty, who treated the accolade like it had the plague and quickly gave it to Taylor Coon, who declined to put her hands on something she admittedly didn’t want.

It wasn’t until a photographer begged the Apollos to come together for a team picture that Sunset begrudgingly acknowledged the trophy and painfully recognized its fate.

The few dozen fans, family and friends who remained displayed a nice showing of support for their defeated crew, but hardly enough to erase the anguish on the players’ faces. Losing 2-0 in the state championship to a Tualatin team that Sunset felt was easily beatable, hurt deeply. Gone was the golden ball Luty and Coon guaranteed the Apollos would secure. Gone too, was a season that was superior, yet in the end came up a few plays short of state glory.

“It’s a heartbreaker for us,” said Coon. “Especially being our last game as seniors. But, I’m proud of the whole team the entire way down the roster. We deserved to be here. We just couldn’t finish it off. We worked our butts off sub-60 after sub-60, and every practice. We just didn’t get the result we wanted.”

“Tualatin played awesome, good for them,” said junior forward Alex Bibo. “We thought we could come in and win, but not super easy. We knew it’d be a tough game. We thought it was there for the taking.”

Tualatin’s Kyla Hackelman scored the Timberwolves’ first goal with 22:37 to go in the first half after the Apollo defense couldn’t clear a bouncing, loose ball in front of the penalty box. Luty tried to charge Hackelman as the ball came the Timberwolf’s way, but couldn’t get her fingers on the attempt.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sunset Apollos midfielder Rose Pflug (17) and Tualatin Timberwolves Anna Verloo (19) chase the ball in the 6A state girls soccer championship at Hillsboro Stadium.

Bibo said Tualatin’s first goal blindsided the Apollos, and though Sunset competed vigorously for the rest of the match, they could never fully get back on their feet.

Following a Sunset foul three minutes into the second half, Tualatin senior Jill Farley sent a free kick from 25 yards away that hit the left post of the goal and dribbled into the net to go up 2-0.

“We played our hearts out, as hard as we could,” said Bibo. “After the first goal, we just kind of got down on ourselves, and we couldn’t get it back. We knew we could pull through in the second half, because we’ve done it before. But, after the second goal, we just all fell apart and didn’t play our game.”

Coon said the Apollos could’ve played better, but they gave it their all, and merely couldn’t get anything to go their way. Confident coming into the game, the all-state defender said the Apollos for whatever reason weren’t as focused as they normally were. Overconfidence might have had a hand in getting ambushed by a turned-up Tualatin team, though Coon sensed something wasn’t right from the kickoff.

“We weren’t goofing off or anything, but I could tell some of us weren’t all there and weren’t ready for this,” said Coon. “With all of our young players, this was a big game. I don’t think they were used to seeing so many fans. We didn’t perform to our full potential.”

Sunset played better in the second half, Coon pointed out, once the team got adjusted to the volume of the crowd and the magnitude of playing for a state championship banner.

Rose Pflug had two shots on goal in the second half, backing Nia McFerrin’s first-half shot that was stopped by Timberwolf goalie Emily Leonard. Even so, the seniors, and few juniors who played for a state championship in 2011, weren’t immune to the pressure of a state championship contest.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sunset Apollos defender Taylor Coon (21) heads the ball over Tualatin Timberwolves Jordan Anderson (8 )in the  6A state girls soccer championship at Hillsboro Stadium.

“It’s totally different every single time we’re here,” said Coon.

There’s a lot to be said about finishing as the state’s runner-up and being the last remaining team from the Metro League to be playing in mid-November. When the season began, there were doubts as to whether the senior class led by Coon, Williamson, Luty, Owens, Payten Sonnen, Grace Mettler and Taylor Labavitch could mesh with the capable, but untried, freshmen. A surprising 2-1 preseason to 5A power Sherwood only heightened the questions around Sunset’s prospects.

Yet, freshmen stars like Pflug, Sydney McRae and state semifinal hero Riley Prillwitz harmonized beautifully with their older teammates.

“Our freshmen stepped up so much,” said Coon. “We’re best friends on the field, and off the field. The chemistry we made just helped a ton. It was definitely the best season of my career.”

Coon said she’s sure this year’s group of seven contributing freshmen will be back at Hillsboro Stadium by the time they graduate. And, when and if that time comes, the youngsters will have the state experience to fall back on.

The shock and awe of playing in front of a bi-partisan crowd that’s openly rooting against you won’t be such a jolt to the system as it might’ve been against the experienced Timberwolves.

“At first, it was kind of hard adapting to their playing styles because they weren’t used to playing in big games against bigger girls,” said Coon.

“But, they learned how to go 100 percent in practice, and they got used the speed of the game. I’m just really proud of how they played this season.”

Following a 2-1 loss to Jesuit on Sep. 19, Sunset didn’t lose for 14 straight games, including a brilliant run through the 6A playoffs that saw the Apollos hammer Grant and outlast Westview in the semifinals. When the dust settled on the 6A postseason, the Apollos were still standing above their peers, the final warrior left from the dog-eat-dog Metro League.

“I have a lot of friends from other schools, and the whole Metro League was behind us, trying to support us,” said Bibo. “We just couldn’t do it this time. It was a really good run — our seniors put so much into it. They put all their heart into this season, and our whole team tried to support them the whole way through. We got to here, and we just couldn’t pull off the win.”

“We knew we had to push through everything — the blood, sweat, and tears,” added Williamson. “I’m really proud of everyone for getting to this point. We played our hearts out tonight. We were just unlucky. We didn’t connect like we normally do, but we played hard anyways.”

The sting of second place will last for a while. But, Williamson said continuing a tradition of excellence under head coach Ben Durano will eventually outlive the pain of a state championship defeat.

“It means a lot to us, especially the seniors,” said Williamson. “We have a young team with a lot of freshmen. We’re just proud of everyone.”

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