Walden Grove girls win 4A state soccer title, Villarreal breaks program record in goals

Walden Grove celebrates a state championship on Friday. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

It was all smiles and tears of joy after the Walden Grove girls soccer team defeated Salpointe, 3-1, in the state 4A championship Friday at Marana High School.

It also helped erase a couple of bad memories. Walden Grove lost a penalty kick shoot-out to Salpointe in the state semifinals in 2022, came up short against the Lancers in the state championship game last season, and tied Salpointe, 1-1, in December. That made this year’s match-up much more significant for the Red Wolves and head coach Troy Bosley.

“That’s what makes this so much better, because it wasn’t just last year in the state final. It was the year before in semifinal,” Bosley said. “To finally have us get over that hump is just an incredible feeling. It makes this win just so much more important and so much better.”

Sophomore standout Vivien Villarreal had two goals in the game, breaking the school record for goals in a season. Her 48 goals topped Meredith Scott, who scored 47 goals in her senior year in 2022.

While Villarreal is honored by the milestone, she was more thankful to be on the field Friday night to help her team win.

An ankle injury sidelined her before Wednesday’s semifinals started. Even so, she entered the game in the second half and scored the game-tying goal and another late in the second half to lead the Red Wolves past Saguaro.

“It is a great opportunity to have that, but I’m just grateful that I was able to play on this field today and score the goals that needed to be scored,” she said.

Vivien Villarreal, right, jams the ball on Odessa Barattieri’s foot. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

She believes the hard work Walden Grove put in this season is what earned the Red Wolves the state title and its 20-0-1 record this season.

“It feels good. Finally, we get to relax, but all of our hard work was just completely on ourselves,” she said. “That inner grit really pushed us to be the team that we are today and the champions we are today.”

Salpointe head coach Kelly Pierce says her team played with grit and determination all season long, but that she saw the momentum shifting toward Walden Grove midway through the first half on Friday.

“It wasn’t easy for us. We had a lot of close games and came from behind a lot of times,” Pierce said of Salpointe’s path to the state final. “Not to say they didn’t battle tonight, it just was not our night.”

Salpointe had won three straight state titles coming into the season.

Walden Grove’s senior goalkeepers Megan Blatnik and Julia Vigorita split time in the game.

Megan Blatnik dives for the save. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

Bosley said the decision to bring Vigorita in after halftime was to give Salpointe a different look with her length and athleticism.

“Megan’s our starter just because she has so much experience and knowledge of the game, and she communicates so well. But Julia is just one of those phenomenal athletes, and being able to have her in showed it, with her making some big saves,” Bosley said. ” So, it’s a good problem to have to have two of the best goalkeepers in the state.”

The pair allowed a combined seven goals this season.

Walden Grove went down, 1-0, early after Salpointe’s Emma Cazares scored a goal in the sixth minute, but a header from Villarreal tied the game at 1-1 in the 20th minute.

The Red Wolves and the Lancers remained tied until Villareal added another goal in the 70th minute to put the Red Wolves up, 2-1.

Walden Grove senior Meredith Galus scored a goal in the 74th minute to put the game out of reach.

Villarreal and senior Milana Eyrich have been integral players for the Red Wolves this season. They finished the year in first and third place in the 4A conference state leader board in goals, menacing opposing defenses as a dual offensive threat.

“Mili is just an incredible player,” Villarreal said of Eyrich. “I love playing with her. We read each other so well. Her energy just makes me push myself to be a better teammate for her.”

The feeling is mutual.

“Me and Viv have a connection that is so strong,” Eyrich said. “To be honest with you, I’m going to miss playing with her so much. She’s my little sophomore. It’s just the chemistry that makes us play so well together. Nobody can even defend us because we can just play off each other so easily, and I love her so much.”

Milana Eyrich embraces Vivien Villarreal on Friday. (Gilbert Alcaraz/All Sports Tucson)

Villarreal has two more years with the program but is happy to send Eyrich and the other seniors on the team off with a state title.

“This game — it was just for my other five seniors, too,” she said. “It was to push just for them so they could get this win they deserve completely.”

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