When Polson Lady Pirates soccer coach Jamie Whealon first took over as coach for Polson in 2017, he had to answer a lot of questions.
Whealon started with a team that lost 13 seniors to graduation from a team that was considered one of the most successful team in the history of Lady Pirates soccer. That team fell one goal short in the shootout from overhauling powerhouse Class A Billings Central en route to what would’ve been its first-ever Class A state championship appearance.
Whealon remained persistent that this season wasn’t a rebuilding year in spite of starting five freshmen the majority of the season. Whealon and his Lady Pirates team just kept working on improving their game on a weekly basis.
All summer Whealon and his team worked on developing team chemistry with the hopes of transforming a team that had never played together into a playoff caliber team.
Whealon and his Lady Pirates’ mission was accomplished and they will travel to play Hamilton in the first round of the Montana High School Association Class A state playoffs.
“The girls are working pretty hard and basically, at the start of the season, I was putting two teams together,” Whealon said. “I put a U15 team and a U19 team from the spring league together and it has worked pretty well. Our team had good bonding and meshed pretty well together. We have a good chance of extending our season this week.”
During the 2016 campaign, the Lady Pirates had played together for several seasons and Whealon had to mix the remainder of last year’s team with a group of younger players.
“The girls played with each other for four or five years and knew each other’s tendencies,” Whealon said. “Now you throw into the mix a bunch of girls, players, and personalities that don’t always initially connect with each other and it was a little tough to do team bonding this summer. I worked really hard to get everyone on the same page to have the same goal in mind.”
Whealon, who had a total of eight freshmen on his team this season, wanted to avoid the term “rebuilding.” Whealon said he felt his team could compete this season and he was right. His young team comprised of several players who are competing in their first-ever season at the varsity level won a collective total of five games on the season.
“The best way for players to learn is just let them play the game,” Whealon said. “We need to teach them things during practice and them learning to play the game with their teammates in a game setting environment.”
Using this philosophical approach has worked, Whealon said.
“A couple of our players are skilled enough to land all-conference accolades,” Whealon said.
Whealon has worked through major setbacks during the regular season. One of the key components to Polson’s offensive attack Ashlee Howell became injured and looks to be out for the remainder of the season.
Howell, one of their season leaders and leading regular season goal scorers, will be out for the remainder of the season tearing her ACL. Without her, Polson elevated its level of play, Whealon said.
“The first couple of games without Howell were tough for us and we had to figure out where we were going and what our plans were,” Whealon said. “We had a couple of girls step up and say ‘Hey, coach I want to play a different position.’ We tinkered around with our lineup but our entire offensive and defensive philosophy is going to remain the same. I am positive I think we can sneak a win in this playoffs to continue to extend our season. I am really excited about the prospect of extending our season.”
In the hypothetical scenario the Lady Pirates win, they could host one more home games if the lower seeded team defeats Whitefish. If Whitefish wins, because they are 2-0 against Polson and are conference champions, they will travel to Whitefish in the second round. Whealon said he likes his team’s chances if they play the Lady Bulldogs in the second round.
“I think we are going to get a victory sooner or later against Whitefish,” Whealon said. “The first game we dropped to the Lady Bulldogs was really close. We played them with a man down and lost that game in the waning seconds of the match. In the second match, that was our first game after life without Ashlee Howell and we were trying to figure out our identity. We had numerous chances to put the ball in the net to tie or try to win in the second game against Whitefish.”
Last season, the Lady Broncs’ season ended with a 3-1 loss to Polson at Hamilton. Though it is a different team, Whealon expects Hamilton will have last season’s playoff game on their mind.
“I am sure they are thinking about last year,” Whealon said. “I am thinking they are using losing last year as motivation and that could bode well for us, too but we shall find out on Saturday.”
Columbia Falls 8, Polson 0
At Polson, an early injury to a crucial component of the Lady Pirate weapons array when Ashlee Howell went down would contribute to a catastrophic cascade of Kat clobbers littering the box of the hosts. Polson managed to more than double their attacks during the second half, but couldn’t counter the multiple option offense of Columbia Falls short of predicting the future, making time stand still or having a comic strip heroine with Flash capabilities among their roster. Polson (2-3N, 3-5-1), C.Falls (5-1N, 7-1-1)
C.Falls 4 4 – 8
Polson 0 0 – 0
CF – g Hannah Callender (a Kaylee Ashe) 19’
CF – g Josie Windauer (a Hannah Gedlaman) 27’
CF – g Gedlaman (a Macey Sandefer) 31’
CF – g Callender (a Lakia Hill) 39’
CF – g Hill (a Gedlaman) 41’
CF – g Gedlaman (a Windauer) 44’
CF – g Windauer (a Gedlaman) 49’
CF – g Gedlaman (a Windauer) 59’
SHOTS(on-goal) – CF 36(16), P14(10)
SAVES – CF 5 (Madeline Jarvis), P 11* (Megan Rost)
CORNERS – CF 2, P1 may not be comprehensive
FOULS – CF15(9’), P4. CARDS – CF1y.
LP individual sh(SOG) – Marina Mayorga (6): cross60’(ovr9’,50’,pk55’,57’,Defl64’fk,77’); Ali Hupka 3(2): wideR58’(1’,Defl62’); Autumn Burland (1):(56’); Quinn Motichka (1): (Defl35’); noID 24’,54’,56’.
Asterisk (*) denotes stat variant(s) where unofficial JCH tally and subsequent verification differs from visitor specs reported among media coverage: CF26sh/P9sh, CF18sv/P9sv, CFg8 Windauer (a Gedlaman).
Polson 6, Bigfork 0
At Polson in the second skirmish of the annual battle between the bays played under the lights during Homecoming week, there would be no fashion disaster for Lady Pirates on the pitch this evening. Initiating the scoring was senior defender Sarah Newell, who netted her first varsity career goal. Freshman finished off the festivities with a flourish of finesse that would flatter the flair of fashionable French. Autumn Burland buried a brace (2g) which included an exquisitely timed header, while Ali Hupka made a soccer fashion statement by donning her first varsity hat trick (3g). (2-2N, 3-4-1), Bigfork (1-4N, 1-5)
Bigfork 0 0 – 0
Polson 2 4 – 6
P – g Sarah Newell (a Kyla Heiser) 11’
P – g Autumn Burland (a Lilly Armstrong) 28’
P – g Ali Hupka (a Marina Mayorga) 46’
P – g Hupka (a Mayorga) 59’ ck
P – g Burland (a Mayorga) 62’
P – g Hupka (a Burland) 66’
SHOTS(on-goal) – Bigfork 6(4), Polson 45(33)
SAVES – Bigfork 16 (Ellie Berreth), Polson 4 (Mayorga 4, Armstrong)
CORNERS – Bigfork 1, Polson 5
FOULS – Bna,P2. CARDS – na.
LP individual sh(SOG): POLSON – Ashlee Howell 10(8): Ddefl59’,wideR76’(ovr3’,xbar20’,22’,24’,45’,ovr54’,ovr65’,ovr71’); Marina Mayorga 8(7): wideL79’(41’,41’,ovr42’,$44’¢,52’,ovr58’hdr,ovr64’,78’); Ali Hupka 9(7): 18’,wideL43’(xbar38’,g,49’,xbar51’,g,Ddefl61’,g); Aisha Clarke 3(1): 1’,wide56’(52’); Quinn Motichka 2(1): Ddefl10’(74’); Sarah Newell (2): (g,21’), Autumn Burland 5(4): wideL63’ (g,37’g,68’); Michelle Terry 3(1): offL39’,offR47’(50’); River Shoemake (1):(Ddefl26’); Lilly Armstrong 1: fk14’; Kyla Heiser 1: wideR64’.
LPpaper: 27sh+6g (B2sh, P1sv, Howell 9sh, Hupka 6sh, Burland 3sh, Motichka 1sh, Terry 0sh, Shoemake 0sh), iPad 38(19): Burland (4), Howell 8(4), Hupka 8(4), Mayorga 8(2),Motichka (2); Bigfork 4(2). ($’¢) denotes MM money shot that didn’t pay off. The Polson High School Lady Pirates soccer team will play Hamilton in the first round of the Clas A state playoffs at 12 p.m. Saturday at Hamilton High School. This is the second consecutive year in a row the Lady Pirates and the Lady Broncs will play each other in the MHSA Class A state soccer playoffs.