The Libby Loggers boys soccer team is playoff- bound for the sixth year in a row.
After a brutal early-season schedule, the Loggers have coalesced into a legitimate Class A contender. Combining senior leadership and precocious freshman talent, the Loggers finished the season 5-5-2, 5-1-2 in conference.
The Loggers capped their regular conference schedule with a 2-0 victory over Columbia Falls on Tuesday.
Already assured of a playoff spot, the Loggers used the game to fine-tune strategies before their contest with Stevensville. The Wildcats entered the game in need of a win to earn a playoff position over Bigfork.
Libby took control of the game early with a 10th minute goal from Johnny Davidson. The goal was assisted by Jason Schnackenberg.
Davidson would score again, this time unassisted in the 26th minute.
The Loggers have improved dramatically throughout the season. A trio of talented freshmen — Giovanni Cano, Colin Maloney and Cody Wood — have invigorated the team.
“The freshmen have given the team a lot of confidence,” Head Coach Charlie Webster said. “We had a tough early schedule, and it was hard to learn many lessons from that.”
Libby lost 3-0 to Stevensville earlier in the season, but Webster is quick to point out that his team was missing three starters in the game, including Davidson, the offensive sparkplug.
“It is very exciting for the team to have played so well later in the season,” Webster said. “I think it is an advantage to have played Stevensville earlier. All the pressure is on them.”
Webster characterized Stevensville as a big, strong and talented team full of seniors hungry to go out with a bang.
The Yellowjackets are the second-ranked team in state scoring and Webster was unsure how he plans to counter the aggressive Stevensville attack.
“We are considering using either a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3,” Webster said. “I am thinking about how I want to arrange the midfield.”
Part of Libby’s midseason turnaround has been improved defense. The Loggers allowed 19 goals in their first four games, but adjustments led to only four goals allowed in the team’s final six conference games.
“That strong defense will be essential for success in the playoffs,” Webster said. “Stevensville has good size. You can’t teach big so we will have to be prepared strategically.”
The Loggers finished their conference season with a 4-0-1 streak.
Webster credits the unified play of defenders Adam Neisess, Isaiah Sickler, Jonathan Miller and Colin Johnson for shoring up early season defensive woes.
“Our players fought hard this season and deserve this reward,” Webster said.
The game against Stevensville will take place at 3 p.m. in Stevensville.
Tickets are $7 for adults and $6 for students. The Montana High School Association does not accept conference passes for admittance into postseason games.
Stevensville will wear their home whites and Libby will wear their blue, road uniforms.