On an October Tuesday in 2012, on a rain-soaked and muddy Playfair Park field, the Missoula Sentinel girls’ soccer team brushed away its punchless challenger, Missoula Hellgate, 2-0.
The Spartans earned a spot at the State AA Soccer Tournament by handing the Knights one last defeat. Hellgate fell to a winless 0-10-2.
Well, what a difference a year makes.
Everything was polar opposite when the teams met again this year — except perhaps the score, that was the same. This time, though, the Knights rode away with the 2-0 victory.
The welcome sun warmed the Missoula air to unseasonably warm temperatures and on 2013’s most recent October Tuesday, it was the sixth-seeded Hellgate Knights leaving Playfair Park with a victory and a state tourney berth after an upset win over third-seeded Sentinel in the Western AA playoffs.
“After last year when we had played Sentinel in our playoff game too and we lost, I think going into this game, a lot of us remembered that very clearly,” Hellgate midfielder Ruby Kazemi said.
Kazemi and Chloe Autio each scored and goal keeper Claudia Wiese made eight saves to complete Hellgate’s season turnaround with a ticket to state, the team’s first since before any of the current team members played high school soccer. The Knights, who were once winless at 0-5-1 this season, are now state-bound with a 4-7-2 record — a more-than respectable 4-2-1 over the second half of the season.
Having seen the situation before, and with momentum of a strong second half of the season in tow, the nerves of yesteryear were gone this time, Kazemi said.
“I remember going into it more scared than excited, and this year we were just so excited to be out there,” she said. “Our team has really come together this year. We’re really looking forward to state.”
Hellgate will learn of its first-round state opponent by Thursday evening when the rest of the state’s divisional round games are completed. State action begins next Thursday, Oct. 31, at Helena’s Siebel Fields.
The state championship game is scheduled for Saturday of that weekend.
Hellgate’s last trip to the final-site, eight-team state bracket came in 2009 when the girls’ team lost two straight matches to quickly exit competition.