Wildkats get win in Whitefish, fall to Polson

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    Ave McDonald makes a key save on a penalty kick in the second half at Whitefish Thursday. (Jeremy Weber photo)

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    Cheyanne Johnston-Heinz makes a move against Whitefish Thursday. The Kats downed the Lady Bulldogs, 3-0. (Jeremy Weber photo)

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    Mikey Tambarelli

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    Danny Henjum

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    Ave McDonald makes a key save on a penalty kick in the second half at Whitefish Thursday. (Jeremy Weber photo)

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    Cheyanne Johnston-Heinz makes a move against Whitefish Thursday. The Kats downed the Lady Bulldogs, 3-0. (Jeremy Weber photo)

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    Mikey Tambarelli

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    Danny Henjum

It was an up and down week for the Wildkat soccer team as the girls picked up an important 3-0 win at Whitefish Thursday before falling at home to Polson Saturday, 2-1.

The Kats went into Thursday’s showdown with Whitefish knowing they needed to win by three goals to take over first in the Northwest A Conference, and that’s exactly what they did, while holding the Lady Bulldogs scoreless.

“Shutting them out was not one our goals, but our defense played incredible,” head coach O’Brien Byrd said. “Flora Jarvis and Kyla Johnston led the back line while Ave McDonald made key saves. Josie Windauer came up huge for us and put us in the running for a conference championship. Whitefish controlled the midfield but our front and back lines were just too strong for them.”

The Kats’ first goal of the game came late in the first half as Windauer put it in from point blank range on a breakaway. McDonald kept Whitefish off the scoreboard with a diving save of a Lady Bulldog penalty kick at the 9-minute mark of the second half before Windauer put the Kats up 2-0 with a another goal in the 71st minute.

The final goal came 2 minutes later as Windauer pushed a header past the Whitefish keeper on a corner kick.

It was a different story for the Wildkats Saturday as they fell into second place after suffering a 2-1 loss to visiting Polson.

“We were on such a high after beating Whitefish. It was physically and mentally exhausting, though. To go in there and to get that result took tremendous effort and concentration. We were still mentally drained coming into that Polson game. We had a game plan, and we stuck with it, though,” Byrd said. “They lack of focus in our scoring opportunities was apparent because I believe we were just mentally drained. It wasn’t overconfidence, we just lacked the sharpness we needed in that one.”

According to Byrd, the Kats had 33 chances to score but came away with a single goal while Polson scored twice on 10 opportunities.

“It’s frustrating to go from such a high to such a low in that short of a time period. We have to learn from this as we go into the final games of our season. We’ve learned what it takes to be a champion,” Byrd said.

Despite the loss, they Wildkats got strong performances from several key players, including Lexi Purcell and LaKia Hill.

“Lexi is our most versatile player and we moved her into three positions against Polson Saturday. No matter where you play her, she is going to get the job done,” Byrd said. “LaKia had her best game of the year. She may not have scored, but she created so many opportunities for us up top.”

The loss drops the Kats into second place in the Northwest A Conference. Most likely, Columbia Falls will host Polson again Tuesday in a play-in game, with the winner advancing into the Class A playoffs. Game time has not yet been determined. The Kats still have work to do first as they played at Libby Tuesday and will be on the road at Bigfork Thursday.

In boy’s action, the Wildcats nearly pulled off a dramatic upset as they narrowly lost to Whitefish Thursday, 1-0.

The Cats are the only team this season to hold Whitefish scoreless for a half, a feat they have now accomplished twice.

“It’s all about that rivalry. Everyone circled that game on the calendar when the schedule was released and it is always and out and out war. We almost had what it took to take down the number one team in the state,” Byrd said. “When you play a team like that, your chances are going to be limited. We just couldn’t finish when we got our opportunity.”

The Cats lost at home to Polson on Saturday, 3-0.

The Cats still have a shot at the playoffs, though. As long as Columbia Falls does not lose to Bigfork by more than three goals Thursday, the Cats would face Polson in a play-in game in Polson Monday.

“We can’t take any team for granted. We have to take care of business this week,” Byrd said.

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