Polson High School goalie Russell Smith knows the Class A Montana State High School Athletic Association postseason is here and already he has recognized the atmosphere at practice is different.
“The atmosphere is starting to get serious,” Smith said. “You have to start preparing differently and taking practice a lot more seriously during the playoffs.”
Smith and his Pirate teammates will enter the playoffs riding a wave of momentum.
Polson hasn’t a lost a game since they lost to Laurel on Sept. 8and will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seeded team that will host No. 3 seeded Loyola at 12 p.m. Saturday at Polson High School
If Polson wins, they will be on the road either against the defending Class A champion Belgrade team or they will travel to Hamilton. In the MHSA playoffs, if a lower seed defeats a higher seed that has home field advantage, they carry the home field advantage into the next round regardless of their seed.
In the regular season the Pirates defeated Loyola 11-0 in their second game on Sept 2.
“We’ve taken the season pretty seriously so far and I don’t see why that would change,” Smith said. “We are just going to do what we’ve been doing. Coach Adam Fansher is letting us take Monday off for a rest and reset our mind.”
Smith admits feeling a little more pressure in the playoffs than the regular season, but also knows if his team remains focused they will be successful.
“There is a little more pressure here but we just need to do what we’ve been doing all season: train our best, focus, warm up at the beginning of the Loyola game and do our job,” Smith said. “Things will go our way if we continue to do what we’ve done all season.”
Smith attributes the team’s success to the camaraderie and chemistry his teammates developed.
“We are a team, we are friends and it’s like a big family together,” Smith said. “We have a brotherhood and a bond on the field and we are friends outside of sports. In soccer, that is very important to have. It’s like a big family out there.”
Smith and his teammates aren’t just satisfied with winning the conference and finishing the regular season with 10 wins. They aspire to win it all.
“I was at the recycling center and a lady said ‘Hey, congrats on your conference title,’ and I was thinking to myself ‘Thank you for the compliment but we don’t’ want to stop at winning the conference.” Smith said. “That isn’t good enough. We want to do better than that and we aren’t stopping. We have a long way to go and everyone on the team is hungry. We are going for it all and we are all in.”
Polson coach Adam Fansher attributes the team’s success to the aggressive style of play they’ve implemented both offensively and defensively.
“The whole team is just playing well,” Fansher said. “They’ve been able to impose their will in the game, play as a team and play their game. They’ve been able to play their kind of soccer and have been able to dictate the tempo of the game. They have controlled the ball in every match. The team knows what they need to do to be successful and consistently played that way throughout the season, which is hard to do.”
Last season, a talented boys soccer team lost to Corvallis in the first round and Fansher decided to make adjustments as his team entered the 2017 campaign.
He shortened the length of team practices.
“The intensity of the practice is more important than the quantity,” Fansher said. “20 quality minutes of play at game speed with players that play fast and at a high level is better than 40 minutes of average practice when your guys are getting really tired as the practice goes on. My team practices a lot at game speed, which is really important. When players are playing short practices, they don’t have a lot of time to goof around. They have to come into practice with the right attitude and the intensity level at practice is high.”
Fansher’s squad may have defeated Loyola by a margin of 11-0, but his Pirates aren’t taking the No. 3 seeded team from the south lightly.
“We played them earlier in the year and it was a good match,” Fansher said. “I put a big asterisk next to wild scores like that because you never know which guys they had available, who they had missing and early season games can be really misleading. I expect them to come to every match improved from the time we played them previously.”
Though Fansher expects Loyola to be formidable, he said he felt his team will compete and have a good chance of winning if they play the style of soccer that has allowed them to have a 10-game season and a conference title.
“We have to go into every match feeling confident,” Fansher said. “We always want to play our style of soccer and our play involves a lot of ball possession, dictating the tempo, and playing the way we are able to play our style of soccer. Then we feel confident playing against anyone.”
Fansher also expects the Rams to want to extract revenge on his Pirates for the 11-0 thrashing they administered in the first meeting. Fansher expects to see their best as they enter the tournament.
“They’ve seen us before and they want to do better against us because they certainly have a point to prove,” Fansher said. “They’ve gotten better. And at this time of year, we can get strange weather like big wind or a hail storm and that can be a big equalizer in a game. We just have to control what we can control. I am really confident that we will come out of this game with a win if we play our style of soccer.”
The Pirates hope to win their first-ever state championship and will begin the process of trying to win in their first round matchup with Loyola at 12 p.m. at Polson High School. Last year the Pirates finished its season with a loss to Corvallis.
Polson 10, Libby 0
Libby 0 0 – 0
Polson 5 5 – 10
P – g Mack Moderie (a Linde Lambson) 7’
P – g Robin Erickson (a Keyan Dalbey) 10’
P – g Erickson (a Moderie) 12’
P – g Moderie (a Erickson) 14’
P – g Erickson (a Alexis Guerrero) 15’
P – g Guerrero (a Moderie) 45’
P – g Connor Lanier (a Moderie) 50’
P – g Bridger Wenzel (a Moderie), 57’
P – g Alex Wall-Wilbert 59’
P – g Brayden Mueller (a Wall-Wilbert) 68’
SHOTS(on-goal) – Libby 1, Polson 54(41)*
SAVES – L25 (Tyler Lucas), P1 (Russ Smith, Tristan Clifford 1)
CORNERS – L0, P7. FOULS – na.
P individual sh(SOG) 54(41) – Moderie 3(2): side17’(g,g,); Erickson (6): (2’,2’,7’,g,g,g); Lambson 7(4): ovr15’,ovr43’,DeflL48’(1’,9’,23’,50’); Dalbey 6(4): wideL42’,wideL50’(Defl1’,4’,42’,76’), Guerrero 7(6): Defl38’(5’,7’,g,53’,62’,xbar78’); Wall-Wilbert (5): (20’,24’,34’,g,68’); Davis Smith 6(5): wideL36’(Defl8’,11’,55’,55’,78’); Lanier (1):(g); Wenzel (1):(g); Mueller 5(3): Defl69’,ovr77’(64’,g,74’); Xavier Stalkfleet 2(1): wide41’hdr(69’); Elijah Taylor 4(2): wideR16’,wideR38’(Defl14’,36’) ; Keith Erickson (1):(25’) (Sa07Oct17)
Asterisk (*) denotes stat variant(s) where unofficial JCH tally differs from specs reported among media coverage: P22sog
Polson 6, Whitefish 3
At Whitefish, the visiting Pirates were teetering on the edge of the plank when the host Bulldogs unleashed a two goal lead before intermission. But Polson made some critical adjustments, ratcheted up their caliber of play a couple of notches and notched the equalizer after a few minutes into the second half. Thereafter, the Pirate defense muzzled the Bulldog bite while the offense set sail with three more goals to seal the win and the Northern conference title. Robin Erickson tallied a double brace (4g), Bridger Wenzel scored the first Polson goal as well as contributed a pair of assists, while Linde Lambson closed out the scoring for the Pirates. Mack Moderie dished out a tandem of assists, while Linde Lambson and Alex Wall-Wilbert contributed an assist apiece. Keeper Russ Smith was in fine form the second half, completely slamming the door on higher Bulldog expectations.
Polson (7-0N, 9-1-1), Whitefish (5-2N, 7-3-1)
Polson 1 5 – 6
Whitefish 3 0 – 3
W – g Noah Romagnuolo (a Xander Burger) 17’
P – g Bridger Wenzel (a Linde Lambson) 28’
W – g Burger 34’
W – g Avery Hirsch (pk) 36’
P – g Robin Erickson (a Mack Moderie) 41’
P – g Erickson (a Wenzel) 42’
P – g Erickson (a Alex Wall-Wilbert) 54’
P – g Erickson (a Wenzel) 73’
P – g Lambson (a Moderie) 75’
SHOTS(on-goal) – P13, W8.
SAVES – P5 (Russ Smith), W7 (Colter Upton).
CORNERS – P2, W5.
FOULS – P7, W3. CARDS — P1y, W1y.
Polson 7, Libby 1
At Libby, visiting Polson was in firm control early on. A half dozen Pirates found the net, while a quartet contributed assists.
Polson (6-0, 8-1-1), Libby (0-6, 0-8-1)
Polson 5 2 – 7
Libby 1 0 – 1
P – g Linde Lambson (a Connor Lanier)
P – g Davis Smith (a Mack Moderie)
P – g Moderie (a Robin Erickson)
P – g Michael Vergeront (a Alexis Guerrero)
P – g Erickson (a Moderie)
L – g Austin Swartzenberger (pk)
P – g Vergeront (a Moderie)
P – g Lanier (a Erickson)
SHOTS – Polson 16, Libby
SAVES – Polson (Russ Smith), L9 (Tyler Lucas)
CKs, FOULs, CARDs – na