MIDDLETON — As the Kuna girls soccer players gathered to take a team picture Saturday, they wanted to make sure one player was included.

A couple of teammates helped Jayla Ponce, who had just injured her knee late in Kuna’s 2-0 loss to Sandpoint in the 4A state championship game, off the cart she was sitting on, and guided her as she limped into the middle of the group where she sat down for a photo.

Even after a tough loss, Kuna knew they had just finished a special season, and wanted to include Ponce, who was tied for the team lead in goals this season to be included on the festivities.

“They played for each other, they played together, they just battled all year long,” said Kuna coach Chris Reynolds. “We played some of the toughest competition, in our conference, in the whole state. We had that belief that we could do it, we set those goals early that we were going to get here and we did what it took to get here.”

Kuna made the state tournament for the first time in four years, then beat Twin Falls and Skyline in the first two rounds of the state tournament to get to the championship for the first time since 2009.

But it wasn’t the year for Kuna to win its first state title. Instead it was the Bulldogs, who had lost to Bishop Kelly in the state title game the last three years before beating the Knights in 13 rounds of penalty kicks in Friday’s semifinal.

“It’s history making,” Reynolds said about the season. “We haven’t been back to state in four years, only one other team for Kuna girls soccer made it to the championship game. Unfortunately we are still without that state championship, but it’s definitely a special team, a special group of girls and a magical run for us.”

Sandpoint had goals in both halves, taking the lead off Kylie Williams goal in the 16th minute.

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But the game remained 1-0 nearly the rest of the way, with Bulldogs getting an insurance goal in the 76th minute. Emma Thielbahr took a free kick from just outside the penalty box, which hit off a Kuna defender’s head and deflected into the net.

That pretty much sealed the deal for Sandpoint, as Kuna had been threatening throughout much of the game.

Although they only forced Sandpoint goalkeeper Hattie Larson to make two saves, Kuna had some shots that hit off the posts and several other opportunities which didn’t quite hit the net all game long.

“It falls on us, we got to make the most of those opportunities,” said Reynolds. “Unfortunately we didn’t find the back of the net. Really felt like we had a solid plan coming in, we went out, executed and really took it to them. I kind of feel like the better team didn’t end up the winner tonight, but it is what it is. Sometimes that happens.”

Late in the game, Ponce, who scored 30 goals for Kuna this season, went down with a Sandpoint player in front of the Bulldogs net. Reynolds said she twisted her knee and that preliminary tests for any major issues were negative. She was carted off the field.

Kuna will be moving up to the 5A classification next season, but Reynolds said with just five seniors graduating, he’s hopeful next year’s team can be successful as well.

BISHOP KELLY 3, SKYLINE 0: Sydney Cromwell knocked in a pair of goals as the Knights (19-1-1) won the third-place game.

MIDDLETON 1, BONNEVILLE 0: Addi Wyatt had the goal for the Vikings (14-8-2), who took home the consolation championship.

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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