Puyallup beats Union for 4A district boys soccer title

Puyallup keeper Nathan Vitzthum makes a save from Unions Garik Shevchuk's shot during the second half of the 4A District 3/4 championship game on Thursday May 12, 2022 at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, Washington.

Puyallup keeper Nathan Vitzthum makes a save from Unions Garik Shevchuk’s shot during the second half of the 4A District 3/4 championship game on Thursday May 12, 2022 at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, Washington.

pcaster@thenewstbune.com

Puyallup High School senior goaltender Nathan Vitzthum had never seen anything like it. He was between the goal posts in penalty shoot-outs sixteen times. After regulation time and overtime, Puyallup and Union drew 1-1 in Thursday night’s District 3/4 High School Boys’ Championship game at Sparks Stadium.

As it was still a tie after extra time, it went to penalties. Best of five attempts. The problem? It was still tied after five tries for each team. Still tied after 10. Still tied after 15. It wasn’t until the 16th try for Puyallup to win the contest when midfielder Liam Stoner converted his try to end one of the most dramatic and unlikely shootouts Puyallup had ever seen. On the way, Vitzthum stopped four shot attempts by Union.

“I think the most I’ve ever done was maybe six or seven,” he said after the game.

In football penalty shootout, every player shoots. If this continues, teams will have to complete their entire starting line-up. On shot #11, this meant the goalkeepers from both teams had to try shots at each other (both converted). It was only the second time in his life that Vitzthum even took a penalty. The first didn’t go so well.

“I was like nine,” he said. “I missed. Not a good memory for me.”

He increased his average to 50 percent and converted his shot on Thursday. He then saw five more coming his way and blocked Union’s Josh Boda’s 16th and final try. Then Puyallup’s Liam Stoner fired his shot, sealing victory for the Vikings in the district tournament.

The deepest Puyallup had gone into a post-season penalty shootout was seven rounds in a 2013 State Tournament loss to Inglemoor. Thursday’s competition more than doubled the mark.

Puyallup got off to a hot start and scored in the fifth minute when a ball from a corner kick was partially cleared by Union’s defense and rebounded to his second defender Roby Hooper. He hit the bouncing ball with a beautiful volley and sent it over the keeper’s head and into the back net.

It wasn’t a given that Hooper would even be able to get dressed Thursday. He had had a fever of over 100 degrees in the days before and wasn’t sure if he would be able to get active again. Even on Thursday mornings at school, he didn’t feel 100 percent. But in the pre-match warm-up he felt good and decided to give it a try.

He then scored the “banger” goal – in the words of Puyallup coach Matt White – to give Puyallup the early advantage.

“I saw the ball bounce back out,” Hooper said. “I was taught from day one of high school that if I hit twenty yards over the bar it’s just as good because we don’t get countered. I thought about taking a touch, but I didn’t. I just hit it.”

Even if the ball had sailed, White would have been fine with that. A hard hit prevents a possible counterattack by the other team. As such, Puyallup’s coach was delighted to see his second defender take the shot from the rebound rather than taking a second chance and allowing the defense to close the space.

“He knew his job was to hit the frame as hard as he could,” White said. “Let’s not counter. You don’t get two touches. If it goes in, fantastic. If it travels 100 miles and transforms into a new SpaceX in orbit, I’m fine with that because then we won’t counter.”

Puyallup gave up just one goal in three games of the District 3/4 tournament, beating Kentwood 1-0 and Kennedy Catholic 1-0 ahead of Thursday night’s championship game. The Vikings are a work in progress – and young – in attack. But Vitzthum’s defensive line and game give the Vikings a chance to win every game. In addition to the shootout saves, Vitzthum kept Puyallup in the game, made several clutch saves down the stretch including a kick save in the 74th minute, stretched his right leg and blocked a shot from a Union forward who ran his way the passing found defensive line and had a clear view of the goal.

“Three times he’s hit a huge 1-on-1,” White said. “He just kept rescuing us from difficult spots. That was impressive.”

Jon Manley covers high school sports for The News Tribune. McClatchy President’s Award winner and Gonzaga University graduate Manley has been reporting on the South Sound sports scene since 2013. Born and raised in Tacoma.

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