2023-24 Girls Soccer

Villarreal returns from injury to lead Red Wolves to state championship

Vivien Villarreal kicks her second goal after entering the game early in the second half on Wednesday. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

An ankle injury sidelined Walden Grove sophomore standout Vivien Villarreal before Wednesday’s 4A state semifinals game at Walden Grove High School started.

Early in the second half, with the Red Wolves down 1-0, she entered the game, scoring the game-tying goal in the 57th minute and another goal late in the second half to lead No. 2 Walden Grove past No. 11 Saguaro, 3-1, to advance to the state championship game.

While Walden Grove head coach Troy Bosley says the decision for Villarreal to play was mutual, he acknowledges it was her call in the end.

“She was talking with other staff, and they were letting her know how they were feeling throughout the game, and then at the very end, she came over and talked to them again,” he said “It was probably pretty much mutual, but I’m sure Villarreal really wanted to be out there. So, I’m sure she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”

Bosley praised Villarreal’s talent and ability to dominate games like she did on Wednesday but also commends her for being a great teammate.

“She could take over any type of game, but the best thing about it is she is a team player and humble more than anything, and well-liked around her peers,” he said. “So stats are great, but it’s everything she does on and off the field as well.”

Walden Grove players pose for a photo following the postgame handshake. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

Saguaro’s Skylar Jackowell scored a goal in 17th minute, and Walden Grove struggled to contain Saguaro’s pressing offense for most of the first half.

“I think a lot of it was nerves and, being without Villarreal out there, they were just a little bit distraught,” Bosley said.

Senior Milana Eyrich gave Walden Grove a 2-1 lead with a goal in the 65th minute.

Milana Eyrich controls the ball on Wednesday. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

Both Villarreal and Eyrich have been integral players for the Red Wolves this season and sit in first and second place atop the 4A conference state leaderboard in goals, with 44 and 40 goals, respectively.

Walden Grove will face Salpointe in the state championship game. The Lancers have won the past three 4A state titles.

The Red Wolves are now 19-0-1 this season, and the only blemish on its record is a 1-1 tie with Salpointe in December.

The history between the two programs doesn’t end there.

Walden Grove lost a penalty kick shoot-out to the Salpointe in the state semifinals in 2022 and came up short against the Lancers in the state championship game last season, making this year’s matchup much more significant for the Red Wolves.

“It’s just pretty much a redemption season, and we’re just going to keep on playing, and hopefully we come out on top, and the best time to beat them would be in the state championship,” Bosley said. “I’m glad we have our opportunity again.”

Walden Grove plays No. 4 Salpointe at 5 p.m. Friday in the 4A State Championship at Marana High School.

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