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East, Murray head for big showdown

Region championship is on the line in girls' 4A soccer play

The defending 4A state champs haven't forgotten their 1-0 loss to Murray, in fact, they think about it all the time.

"Ever since we lost, the whole team has been talking about getting back at them," said East goalkeeper Claire McConkie. "We know when we play them again, we're going to win."

When the two teams met almost a month ago at Murray Park, it was the Spartans' Brinna Bennion scoring the winning goal with five minutes remaining in the game. East head coach Mike Kernodle said after the loss, the Spartans just flat out played harder in the second half.

"Murray is a very hard-working group. They're not going to lay down," he said. "It's going to be up to us to make sure we return the favor."

While the Spartans did take over first place in the region, they couldn't hold on to it. Losing to West and managing only a tie with Olympus, they dropped to second place heading into the final two weeks of the region play.

East, on the other hand, hasn't lost since that defeat. Some of the Leopards are saying it looks a lot like last year's state title team.

"When we lost last year 5-2 to Woods Cross, that team took it to heart, and we didn't lose another game after that," said Leopards senior Jane Phillips.

While Kernodle likes what his team has done to regroup and contend for the region crown, he says the team needs to remain focused.

"It's a great feeling, but we're right on the edge," he said. "The sign of a great team is having the ability to adapt to every situation."

Team comparisons show both sides are evenly matched on offense. The Spartans have an edge on defense, and they're giving up less than a goal a game. East ranks sixth in the same category.

Matching Murray's hard-nose style of play will be a primary focus of the Leopards. Some of them say they didn't respond very well to the Spartan bullying tactics.

The East senior goalie says that it gives Murray a big advantage.

"They're a cheap team," she said. "They push a lot, they flop a lot, and they do it in every game."

Overcoming injury could play into East strategies, as well. Senior midfielder Taylor Nicolaides had her arm in a sling at the end of last week's 1-0 sudden-death victory of Highland. Nicolaides could have ligament damage in her wrist, which could keep her out of Tuesday's pivotal match.