Division I Girls Soccer State Championship
Who: No. 1 Hamilton vs. No. 3 Highland
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Campo Verde High School (3870 S. Quartz St., Gilbert)
Outlook: Hamilton is the big-school defending champions, and first-year coach Mark Eggleston (a former assistant) has guided the Huskies back here again (thought not without rough patches). This should be a dandy. Both teams are fast up front, solid defensively and have had good goaltending all season (Laura Glew for Hamilton, Ashley March for Highland). John Berzins' team is playing in its first state championship match in its history, and, similar to the semifinal match against Xavier, the Hawks weren't themselves for the first half in trailing 1-0 to Xavier before scoring three times in the second half. The comeback was good, but the Hawks can't afford to come out flat like that against a top-notch Hamilton defense.
That defense is legit, and Highland will test it as much as anyone (and vice versa). The Hawks are led by junior Ashley Hatch up front, along with her younger sister, Brianna, in the midfield. Molly Celler and Brena Jarvis add to the attack with Jaden DeGracie. Ashley Hatch is the most dangerous weapon, and her running the attack similar to Hamilton's Emily Ravenhill will be a dual sprint track meet unto itself.
Hamilton doesn't rely on the potent offense Highland does, but the Huskies have balance and has dangerous speed up front when their defense forces opponents' mistakes. The transition game could favor Hamilton here, but if the Hawks play like they did in the second half against Xavier (run, move the ball, force change of possession quickly and get their midfielders and forwards chances), they're hard to stop.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.