Xavier wins fourth straight 6A soccer title in sudden death

February 24, 2024 by Ben Stapley, AZPreps365

Xavier players Michal Cagungun (#18) and Olivia Yu (#10) celebrate with teammates after Cangungun's goal in the first half Saturday. Photo by Ben Stapley

One of the loneliest feelings in all athletic competition may be the role of a goalkeeper during penalty kicks of an overtime contest. Even more so with the state championship on the line, and in the case of Xavier goalkeeper Kate Willmering Saturday, a fourpeat hung in the balance. Lucky for Gator nation, Willmering had been there before.

"It's alot of pressure, but when you win it's the best feeling in the world," Willmering was able to say Saturday evening.

That's because Xavier edged Hamilton 5-4 on penalty kicks to capture its fourth consecutive 6A state championship Saturday at Mesa High School. The No. 2 seeded Gators and No.8 Huskies finished regulation deadlocked at 1-1, before a pair of overtime periods rendered no scoring.

"We went into penalty kicks my sophomore year and we won, and we practice the penalty kick situation a lot, so we're always prepared," Willmering said of her experience and the 2022 title game. "Today I was confident in all my teammates and I think everyone did a great job.  I just had to trust in my teammates the way they trust in me."

The soccer championship is the 14th in Xavier's storied history, with the first coming in 1993.

The Gators appeared to be in control in regulation. Junior Michal Cagungun scored a goal with four minutes remaining in the first half that gave Xavier a 1-0 advantage. the Gators controlled much of the game from that point on, before Hamilton made a strong push in the final minutes when the Huskies finally scored off a sideline kick. The ball appeared to ricochet a few times in a scrum of players righ in front of the goal, before bouncing off Kendall Davis and into the back of the net, tying the match at 1-1.

Xavier finally clinched the match and title when sophomore Kateri Etsitty drilled the winning goal through the right side of the net for the 5-4 penalty kick edge.

"The fourpeat is an incredible feeling," Willmering added. "We have to give a lot of credit to coach (Barbara) Chura. She is amazing and she does an incredible job running this program and we wouldn't be able to so well if it wasn't for her."