Stingy defense combined with a goal scored in the third minute of play propelled the Bellevue Wolverines to a 1-0 victory against the Southridge Suns in the Class 3A state soccer championship game.
Bellevue senior JoJo Harber uncorked a shot from 27 yards out in the third minute of play, giving Bellevue a 1-0 lead. Harber’s shot from the middle of the field was just over the head of Southridge goalie Tiara Valadez and sailed just inches below the crossbar into the back of the net.
“I looked up and I saw the goalie. She was a little short so I decided to chip it up and drive the ball over her. It was pretty far out (27 yards) but I just decided to go for it,” Harber said.
Bellevue goalie Madi George, who made a key save in the 29th minute of play, believed Harber’s goal gave the entire Bellevue team immense confidence.
“That was perfect timing. It was good to get ahead early. That was a great shot. I know I’m a lot more comfortable when we’re up rather than if we are tied or behind,” George said.
Bellevue head coach Peter Cochran was thrilled when he saw Harber’s shot sail into the back of the net.
“Special players score special goals and JoJo got a very special goal for us,” Cochran said.
The Wolverines controlled the action for much of the first half until a near tragedy struck in the 29th minute. George collided with Southridge forward Mckaley Goffard on a play near Bellevue’s goal. George was immediately evaluated for a possible injury and didn’t play the final 10 minutes of the first half.
“It was kind of an in between ball. I didn’t know if our defender was going to get to it so I just kind of threw my body at it and I got hit on the side of the head and cheek. That was kind of scary,” George said.
After being evaluated by the training staff on the sidelines, George was cleared to return to the game in the second half.
“She had to go through the protocol and she passed. It wasn’t a concussion, it was a contusion. Madi looked me straight in the eye and said she was ready to go,” Cochran said.
Harber wasn’t surprised to see her teammate get back on the field after the collision.
“That is exactly who she is. She is so tough and I knew she was going to be right out there to save us,” Harber said.
In the second half, Bellevue controlled the game despite not scoring another goal or surrendering a goal. The Wolverines finished the 2016 season with an overall record of 19-0-2. Cochran said his team had a quiet confidence ever since practices began in August.
“We liked our chances from the very beginning of the season. We took it as a bit of motivation that Bellevue wasn’t ranked anywhere near the top 10 at the beginning of the season despite being a three-time KingCo defending champion. I think this team was accomplished enough that they internalized that and played consistently well the entire year,” Cochran said.