Another bump is now in the rear-view mirror, but the Perry girls soccer team's entrance to the Division I final four will be a rough road ahead.
The Pumas reached their school's first soccer state tournament semifinal with a 2-0 win over neighbor-Basha on Saturday afternoon, and, in doing so, placed themselves among the elite group of heavy kickers with Xavier, Pinnacle and Anthem Boulder Creek.
The top four seeds in the tournament remain. No. 3 Perry will face No. 2 Boulder Creek on Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at Campo Verde High School, followed by the No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 1 Pinnacle match for the right to reach the Feb. 15 state championship.
In order to reach this brand new inclusion into a select few schools still soccer-ing, the Pumas - who lost in the quarterfinals to Pinnacle last season - spent much of Saturday's quarterfinals match as the instigator offensively. Until the latter stages of the second half, the Pumas mostly kept Basha's offense out of goalkeeper Carly Sandstedt's crosshairs.
"If (Perry) comes out and battle and scrap like they did today, they're going to give Boulder Creek a run for their money," Basha coach Greg Johnson said.
The improvement has been tangible: Perry has 11 consecutive matches, went 9-2-1 in power rankings matches last season and 10-1-1 this season. The Pumas were stopped in the quarterfinals last year, followed by a coaching change, and a semifinals berth (at least) this season behind coach Jason Dunn and a wealth of sophomores and juniors (the Pumas start three of their five seniors on the roster).
In keeping with a season-long pattern of offensive balance - six players have at least five goals this season and none have reached double digits - the Pumas' do-everything standout, Mackenna Dunn (Jason's daughter) struck first by nailing a free kick from 25 yards out in the 23rd minute. Seconds after her previous free kick hit the crossbar, she wound up with another chance and hit it toward the upper left corner. Basha goalkeeper Tiana Pretzer dove and got a hand on the ball, but it couldn't be redirected enough.
The Bears, who not only reached the state tournament for the first time since 2007, but beat a quality Highland team in the first round earlier in the week, became more aggressive on the attack after halftime. It revolved around senior forward Jazmarie Mader (Arizona State commit), and though the Bears peppered Perry's end with pressure early and late in the half, the best chance went wide.
Mader led two scoring runs in a two-minute span, the first of which led to her centering pass and a shot too high. The second came off a turnover in the midfield, and despite a clear view of the goal while running down the side, her left-footed shot from the left side rolled across the box and missed by less than two feet.
Sandstedt made six saves while Pretzer stopped seven.
"Defensively, I thought we did a good job keeping (Mader) in check," Jason Dunn said. "(The first-round match) we gave up goals to Sandra Day O'Connor's top three scorers. (Mader) was going to get her chances, but keeping her from scoring was part of what we wanted to do."
Mader and a couple teammates lay on the ground briefly in frustration, but 30 seconds later, Perry's Ashley Dahl handled a goal kick and found the back of the net from 30 yards away to effectively seal the deal.
Basha made a solid case to be a playoff team each of the past two years with its record and strength of schedule, but couldn't get in. This time, Johnson's team not only won the Campo Verde tournament for a second consecutive year, the Bears took home the section title over the likes of Perry, Highland and Hamilton.
A once-woeful program has risen, and made its own history by reaching the quarterfinals on the strength of Mader and a defense which posted 17 shutouts this season.
"I don't think I'll ever see that again," Johnson said of the shutouts. "…It's good to see the Val Vista (Drive) corridor schools have success."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.