AllSportsTucson Phoenix Correspondent Brittany Bowyer
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07
No. 3 Walden Grove will compete in its first-ever state championship game this Saturday against No. 1 Salpointe Catholic after the Red Wolves were able to upset No. 2 Prescott 1-0 on Wednesday. For the Red Wolves, advancing to the championship means more than just making history for the school; It also represents why they play.
“The main thing that’s been pushing us through this has been Raul, who passed away, and doing it for our guy,” junior goalie Ethan Itule said.
The months leading up to the season were an especially dark time for the Red Wolves. Crushing news came in over the summer of former player Matthew Parks unfortunately passing away. Parks graduated from Walden Grove in 2017 and was a former co-captain of the team. More tragic news devastated the program when senior Adrian Alvarado lost his father Raul to COVID-19 prior to the season.
“It’s a blessing. I’m just thankful for everyone that’s been there for me and my family and now we’re just gonna do it for my dad. We’re gonna win state for him,” Alvarado said.
Raul was one of the team’s biggest supporters, never missing a game, and Adrian said that everything he does in his life from here on out, he is doing in honor of his father.
“I know Raul would always be at one of Adrian’s games. He’d always be there no matter what, and for him to no longer be here to watch all of us, he’s now with us on our arms. So that’s just a great privilege to be able to play with him right next to us,” Itule said.
“It’s awesome to play in his honor. That’s why we wear the armbands is for him in remembrance of him, so it’s just awesome to see us get all the way to the finals and the guys have just really come together as a team, as a family and as a unit,” Coach Ryan Atkinson said.
With their black armbands in place and their focus dialed in, the Red Wolves quickly got to work in what was an incredibly strong defensive battle that would last the entirety of the game.
“We knew from the get-go of the season we wanted to play a high-pressing game and just put teams under pressure right away,” Coach Atkinson said.
Walden Grove’s lone goal game in the middle of the first half as the Red Wolves took it right to Prescott. Initially it looked as if Prescott’s goalie had the save, but the Red Wolves were able to finish the job and get the ball into the net with just under 15 minutes left to play before the break.
Barely got the camera up in time, but Walden Grove able to score a goal with about 15 minutes remaining in the half and take a 1-0 lead over Prescott pic.twitter.com/JmJXdDlagm
— Brittany Bowyer (@bbowyer07) March 17, 2021
In the second half, Walden Grove dialed up the intensity even further and seemed to step up their offensive efforts, but Prescott’s goalie had a handful of nice saves to keep the Red Wolves from extending the lead further.
Defensively, the Red Wolves kept pushing and left everything they had on the field. Itule had a number of good saves on the night, and the entire team was instrumental in shutting Prescott down on corner kicks. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Red Wolves were able to snag the victory and advance to state.
Great save by Ethan Itule for Walden Grove to keep it 1-0 pic.twitter.com/BmFtMPRIiL
— Brittany Bowyer (@bbowyer07) March 17, 2021
“We knew they were going to be fast and they were gonna be quick, so we did our conditioning, passing drills, shooting drills, all of that. We did what we were doing in practice, we worked on our shots and finishing, and we luckily got that one goal to get the 1-0 lead,” Alvarado said.
“We’ve been wanting this for so long, I know the seniors have been trying for four years.. To get there in general is just a huge honor. It’s a lot of work that we put in,” Itule said.
The Red Wolves will face Salpointe on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Mountain View. The Lancers will be looking for its eighth championship under head coach Wolfgang Weber, while Walden Grove will look to bring home the trophy and mark a happy ending to one of the most stressful seasons to date.
“We look forward to getting that title. In our school history we’ve never won and since we have a lot of seniors this year, we want to do it this year for our school,” Alvarado said.
“These are the games that we play for, as a coach and as a player. It’s just going to be a fun game. For me personally, going up against Coach Wolfgang (Weber), he’s always a Tucson legend when it comes to soccer so it’s fun to compete against him and coach against him,” Coach Atkinson said.