WARDEN — The celebration was well-deserved, yet muted.
There’s still games to be played, another handful if Warden has its way.
But Saturday morning with the sun shining, the Cougars cut through the mud of a defensive-minded Naches Valley team to win its district tournament opener 3-0 and qualify for the Class 1A state tournament.
“We always say we have next year, we have next year, but for us it’s our last year,” senior Bailey Whitney said. “It’s been a really good season so far. I just hope we can continue.”
The last time Warden reached the state tournament was at the 1B/2B level in 2015, when Whitney and the five other seniors were freshmen.
Aware of the mismatch against the undefeated Cougars, Naches Valley was content to sit back in a five-defender alignment. Any Warden attack saw several Rangers converge on the ball and anything near the goal was cleared immediately, usually by the booming right foot of Torrie Weaver.
“They were playing five defense, three midfielders and one forward and it’s really hard to get through that,” head coach Hannah Mohs said. “Good on them, but they were clearly not playing to score goals — they were playing to stop us.”
And the strategy worked, for a time.
Newly-minted South Central Athletic Conference East Co-Player of the Year Whitney was on the other side of a Grace Richins corner kick, heading the ball into the net in the 18th minute.
Warden shooters continued to pepper the Naches Valley goal, however, many attempts came from over 15 yards away with little velocity behind the entanglement of limbs.
It took another set piece for the Cougars to double their advantage. Aubree Skone knocked in a rebounded free kick by Whitney in the 61st minute.
“I was definitely impressed with Aubree’s finish and then Bailey’s header,” Mohs said. “That was the first time she finally got a head in the goal, so it was impressive.”
Skone showed off her all-state skills by making a few defenders miss en route to her second goal during second-half stoppage time.
Naches Valley did not muster much of an attack until the final minutes. Ellie Conahan’s mitts and quick reflexes prevented an injection of drama with a touch save in the 78th minute.
“Her long hands, man,” Mohs said. “We definitely appreciate her quickness.”
W — 1 2 3
NV — 0 0 0
Next: vs. Cle Elum-Roslyn, Oct. 30, 6 p.m.
Other Basin scores
Highland 1, Wahluke 0
District 5/6 Championships
Team winner: Pullman 64. Local teams: 9, Quincy 247; 10, Ephrata 254; 12, Othello 333.
Individual winner: Eliason Kabaseenche, Pullman, 15:08. Top locals: 13, Kolby Tune, Ephrata, 16:20; 16, Gonzalo Birrueta, Quincy, 16:23; 31, David Maldonado, Othello, 16:53.
Team winner: Pullman 58. Local teams: 7, Ephrata 182; 10, Othello 293.
Individual winner: Leah Holmgren, Ellensburg, 18:17. Top locals: 11, Jane Kennedy, Quincy, 19:28; 18, Adrianna Redstar, Ephrata, 19;52; 59, Yesica Neponuceno, Othello, 25:30.
Walla Walla 3, Big Bend 0
WALLA WALLA — Big Bend was swept on the road by Walla Walla 25-15, 25-19, 25-13.
Sadie Nielsen recorded 12 of the Vikings’ 20 kills.