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Whitefish boys ready for their moment in soccer championship

by BRANDON HANSEN For the Pilot
| October 25, 2023 12:00 AM

It was the final home game of the year for the Whitefish boys, and what better way to spend it than punching their ticket to the Class A state championship match? The Bulldogs improved to a perfect 14-0 on the year, blowing past Lone Peak 5-0 on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Smith Fields.

Now, Whitefish has a chance to earn its fifth title in six years.

"We talk all the time about building toward our best," Whitefish Head Coach John Lacey said. "We want to finish every activity better than we started it; every practice playing faster and stronger at the end than the beginning. And we definitely talk about building toward October."

Lacey said that the team doesn't discuss the numbers behind program history, but they do talk about each team having their moment.

"Everyone gets their time at the front of the line," Lacey said. "That's not a reward. It's a responsibility that hopefully every person in our program prepares for. When we get to these big moments — and state finals are big, they're fun — we know the people who've been there before us have had a part in showing us the way, and hopefully, that makes things easier now for the guys whose time is now."

Lacey added they want their players to embrace the moment, everything leading up to finals, and prepare those around and behind them who will have future shots at state finals.

"Nothing is ever free, and we don't deserve anything because of what's gone on before us," Lacey said. "But we are confident and hopeful that legacy and support has prepared us for now, our time at the front of the line."

Lacey added that his players soccer has gone to a higher, faster level during these past couple of weeks as they wrapped up an undefeated season and advanced in the quarter and semifinals.

"We're hoping to keep that up, not so much because of momentum or a championship mentality, but because it's one more game - and of course our last, so that is special - to hopefully play our best," Lacey said.

The Bulldogs certainly appeared to be sharp against Lone Peak, as they jumped out to a 2-0 first-half lead on a goal by Adam Healy in the fourth minute and a second goal by Townsend Reed, assisted by Ryder Elliott in the 11th minute.

"It's always liberating to get an early goal, and the one we got in the fourth minute on Saturday was pretty unexpected, so that really allowed us to push even more," Lacey said. "We had a good week of training focused on moving the ball, and when we got out there on our beautiful pitch at Smith Fields, everything was set up to just play fast and go for goals."

While the game was scoreless in the first 20 minutes of the second half, Preston McPherson found the net again in the 60th minute with help from Charlie Hyatt. Fourteen minutes later, Sam Dow scored, assisted by Kyler Johnson.

Then, two minutes before stoppage time, Collin Lyman put an exclamation point on Whitefish's efforts thanks to Elliott's second assist of the game.

Whitefish outshot Lone Peak 13-4 and had ten corner kicks to Lone Peak's 3. Ethan Bourque did have three saves in the contest as Whitefish's goalkeeper.

"Our defense didn't have to do lots, but they did great when called upon," Lacey said. "In particular, Bourque had to make his biggest, and really only saves of the game back-to-back when the score was still just 2-0. He nailed it, and it was huge."

Whitefish will now go on the road for the championship game against Billings Central on Saturday, October 28 at 12 p.m. at Amend Park in Billings.

"Our guys have the benefit of having seen older guys before them in our program play in these games, and in fact, a few of these guys have definitely had prior championship match moments," Lacey said. "It's not a new or foreign thing we need to treat differently. We're gonna treat it like a big moment because it's exciting, but it's also kind of the standard that we have for ourselves - go out there and hopefully put out our best in this final match that these boys get to have together. We'll try to build a good week of training, get used to the change in weather coming before traveling, and then go enjoy a great game."

At Whitefish

WHITEFISH 5, LONE PEAK 0

Lone Peak - 0 - 0 - 0

Whitefish - 2 - 3 - 5

SCORING SUMMARY

WF — Adam Healy 4:00

WF — Townsend Reed (Ryder Elliott) 11:00

WF — Preston McPherson (Charlie Hyatt) 60:00

WF — Sam Dow (Kyler Jonson) 74:00

WF — Collin Lyman (Elliott) 78:00

GAME STATS

Shots — LP 4, WF 13. Goalie saves — LP 8 (Miles Romney), WF 4 (Ethan Bourque). Corner kicks — LP 3, WF 10. Fouls — LP 12, WF 9.