In reality, Allison Williamson was the only Carson High School girls' soccer player celebrating a birthday on Thursday.
But every player on the team must have gone home feeling it was a special day, as the the Senators defeated South Tahoe 4-0 in the Northern 4A Zone semifinals and earned a berth in Saturday's zone championship. Carson will play that game at home at 10 a.m. against Galena.
"I'm elated right now," said Carson coach Mike Popp. "This wasn't coaching - it's the girls' talent and heart."
Popp had every reason to be pleased with the Carson's performance, possibly the best all-around outing by the Senators (15-3-2) this season. Consider the following:
- On defense, Carson strung together its third consecutive shutout overall and second in the playoffs. It's now been more than 240 minutes (four hours) of play since the Senators allowed a goal.
- On offense, the Senators had a balanced attack, receiving goals from four different players. Carson - after concentrating solely on its shooting during its last two practices - did a good job at finishing on its scoring opportunities against the Vikings, with two goals coming on headers.
- In goal, Pam Williams continued to look unbeatable, stopping two shots by the Vikings in the first half that appeared to be sure goals. She finished the game with 10 saves.
"We like those shutouts; they're good morale boosters," Popp said.
Carson's shutout string would have come to an end if it weren't for Williams early in the game, as the Vikings offense had Carson on its heels during the first 20 minutes. In a one-on-one situation, Williams blocked Emily Magana's shot in the 10th minute. She then came back to punch away Reggie Braun's shot ticketed for the right side of the net a few minutes later.
"If we scored right off the bat, the outlook of the game would've been different," said Tahoe coach Julia Peyser, whose Vikings concluded their season with an 8-5-7 record. "A goal early would've been nice."
Instead, it was Carson forward Ali Banister shifting the momentum her team's way when she took a pass from Erin Stieber and created some room in front of the goal, eventually beating Viking goalkeeper Sarah Junge in a one-on-one situation to give the Senators a 1-0 lead.
"It was a through ball that I tapped once to beat (the defender)," Banister said. "I tried to shoot low and for the corner."
Carson extended its lead just before halftime on a header by Allison Kop that was set up on a fine cross by Williamson.
When the Senators went up 3-0 on another header, this time by Kali Richey off a well-struck corner kick by Claire Jaquette, even Peyser knew her team's storybook season was coming to an end. The Vikings, the No. 4 seed in Division II, had earned the right to play the Senators by knocking off Reed, the top seed from Division I.
"Even when it was 2-0, we weren't too concerned," Peyser said. "But when it got to 3-0, well
"It was a wonderful season for us, with the same amount of wins but five less losses. We can't be disappointed - we took out the No. 1 seed from Division I."
Jaquette closed out the scoring for Carson in the 70th minute off an assist by Hannah Warren.
Carson, the defending zone championship team, now has the rare opportunity to defend its title on its home field against the Grizzlies, who surprised Douglas 1-0 on Thursday. In their only meeting of the season, Williamson scored a late goal for Carson in the Senators 1-0 win over Galena.
"We're playing great," said Banister before knowing who Carson would face in the final. "Whether we play Galena or Douglas, I think we'll come up with another zone title."
Notes: The Senators outshot the Vikings 28-18 in the game Several Carson players are teammates of Galena players in spring league soccer Carson celebrated Williamson's birthday with a post-game cake on the field.