FLATHEAD VALLEY — The Flathead Valley is the hub for Class A soccer this year, as both the Columbia Falls boys and the Whitefish girls are hosting their respective state championships on Saturday.
"We’re all very excited you know," said Columbia Falls center back Ethan Austin. "I know talking from experience and talking to the guys you know after that Saturday game we woke up on Sunday and we just wish it was already Saturday again cause we just wanna go you know."
And that energy has shaped the teams drive as they head into their third consecutive state championship appearance looking for their first win.
"We just gotta remember that it’s gonna be the last game no matter what, but we can’t play like it," said Austin. "You know you gotta play like there’s another game at the end. So we just gotta come out there just mentally strong, just play loose, I think that’s the key to it."
Teammate and goalkeeper Bruce Dunham knows they have to not just talk the talk but walk the walk as well.
"Saying it is one thing and doing it is another," said Dunham. "And we got past that and we know we’re good enough to play anyone, hang with anyone. You know, this is our year."
And after conceding only four goals throughout the entire year Dunham credits it to the team’s relentless offseason work.
"Iron sharpening iron," said Dunham. "Just in the offseason just making each other better coming out here countless summer nights and just making us better, we’re ready."
The Wildcats will be hosting the Livingston Rangers who upset the defending champion Whitefish Bulldogs in the semifinals 1-0 thanks to a goal from Calvin Caplis. The win sent the Rangers to the state championship as they look to secure their first state title since 2013.
Before the boys game the Whitefish girls will be hosting the nine time state champion Billings Central Rams who are looking to secure their 10th state title and are making their 14th trip to the championship game since 2006.
Central's girls are led by captains Lily Bland on defense and midfielder Lauren Dull (10 goals). The Rams' top goal-scorer is Abby Derbyshire with 24. Amaya Lorash has 17 goals.
"In years prior we acted as if we were like underdogs in a lot of our games, especially the final games, and it does not feel like that at all this year," said senior center midfielder Maddy Muhlfeld. "I think our confidence has definitely gotten a lot better.'
Even with that confidence after back-to-back overtime wins the nerves and excitement don’t entirely go away.
"A lot of both," said fellow senior center midfielder Maya Lacey. "Nervous feeling, and excitement. I just want to make the most of it for the last year."
A mindset that is shared by Muhlfeld as well when it comes to her and many of her teammates senior year.
"I feel like it would just be like reaching that peak point that like we’ve all wanted to reach," said Muhlfeld eagerly. "We haven’t won the state title in so long and it would feel like all of our work has really gone towards something."
The Bulldogs and Rams will kick off the girls championship Saturday at Smith Fields at 11 a.m., while the Wildcats and Rangers will play at Columbia Falls High School at 3 p.m.