To call it simply an underdog story doesn’t give appropriate justice to the Bigfork Vikings’ improbable 2008 soccer season.
After finishing the regular season with only two wins to go along with seven losses and three ties, the Vikings were fortunate to even make it to the state tournament, though they had done what they needed to when it was necessary, including a victory over Polson in the final game of the year. Then in the first round of the state tourney, matched up against No. 1 Corvallis, it appeared the Vikings were destined to be a speed bump in the Blue Devils’ path to the Class A title.
Or it appeared that way to everyone except for the Vikings themselves and their hoards of fans who traveled to Corvallis for the historic game. Ninety minutes later, Bigfork had knocked off the highest-scoring team in the state with a 1-0 shutout. The magical run, however, ended a week later after a loss in the semifinals to Libby.
“It’s a fantastic story,” head coach Keith Koslosky said. “It’s been a fantastic journey. It could be the beginning of dispelling the myth that having a small pool of athletes doesn’t allow you to be competitive.”
“That’s a Cinderella season,” he added.
Midway through the regular season, Bigfork was hit by a series of injuries that depleted its roster and forced Koslosky to rethink his game plan. What emerged from the string of bad luck was a new philosophy: defense, defense and, if that didn’t work, a little more defense.
The Vikings changed their formation to drop more players to their side of the field, clogging the attack lanes for opponents while sacrificing, at times, their own shots on goal. They learned to be opportunistic scorers. If the other team never scores, Koslosky and his players figured, then they don’t have to score much either. All three of Bigfork’s victories were grind-it-out affairs ending with a 1-0 score.
Adding to the improbability of the Vikings’ season was the way it began. Bigfork struggled out of the gate and didn’t even have a true goalkeeper. Keenan Evans started in the net, but Zac Hansen eventually took over. He hadn’t played goalie before.
“He was athletic so we put him on the field,” said David Meyers, a senior centerback.
With Hansen rising to the occasion and the rest of the Vikings embracing the new defensive system, games became more competitive, though victories continued to be elusive. Throughout the transition, Meyers said it was difficult for fans to get excited about the slow pace of the game, with the ball on Bigfork’s side of the field for extended periods and few attacks on the goal by the Vikings.
But ultimately everyone, fans and players alike, get excited about winning, which is exactly what began to happen toward the end of the regular season. Then in the last game of the year against Polson, Bigfork faced a must-win, or must-tie, situation. A loss would have dashed the Vikings’ playoff hopes. The game ended in a hard-fought 1-0 victory for the Vikings, launching them into the playoffs with only two wins under the their belts.
Meyers said somewhere along the way, he and his teammates, particularly the seniors, quit placing so much pressure on making the state tournament. They started having fun again, he said, which changed the team’s dynamic for the better. In the end, the reverse psychology played a large role in getting Bigfork into the tourney.
“We just kind of had fun and then things started working,” Meyers said.
Corvallis entered the state tournament with a 11-0-1 record, the most goals in the state and vast talent across the board. Meyers said, “It was amazing how good they were.” But Meyers said the Vikings weren’t intimidated. Nobody expected them to win, just like nobody but their own team and fans expected them to be in the tournament in the first place.
So the Vikings stuck to their plan: stuff the Blue Devils on defense and be selective on offense. Early in the second half, Bigfork scored on a corner kick and never looked back. It was the school’s first-ever win at the state tournament. Though Bigfork lost the following weekend to Libby in the semifinals, the Cinderella script had already been written. That same day, conference rival Whitefish watched its 44-game unbeaten streak end.
Senior midfielder Matt McGady struggled to put into words his team’s emotions after the final whistle of the Corvallis game blew. It was the culmination of a remarkable season.
“It was ridiculous,” McGady said. “We were all going crazy. It was kind of surreal.”
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