With the state tournament in Aberdeen only two weeks away, first qualification for it and then seeding advantage are uppermost in the minds of soccer players and coaches this weekend.
The Vermillion teams go to Mitchell for crucial Saturday games. The JV boys play at 11 a.m., the boys varsity at 1 p.m. and the girls at 3, all at Cadwell Park.
As of Sunday, the VHS boys are tied for eighth place in the seeding standings with Groton while Freeman Academy, the Vermillion opponent this past Tuesday, is 10th and Mitchell 12th. Only the top eight qualify for the state tourney.
The VHS girls as of Sunday were tied for sixth place, and Mitchell is eighth, so Saturday's games for both Tanager teams are almost life-or-death.
Last week the Tanager boys varsity, now 5-5-1, took the measure of Mitchell Christian, 4-1, and St. Thomas More, 7-0. In between they lost a 4-0 decision to second-seeded Sturgis.
Meanwhile, the girls varsity, now 3-5-1, split its weekend games, drilling Sturgis 4-1 and losing 4-0 to two-time defending state champ St. Thomas More, the top-seeded girls club.
A picturesque goal by Levi James, slammed into the net while his body was parallel to the ground, got the Tanagers going against Christian. He scored again two minutes later. Meanwhile, Mitchell's best scoring chance late in the first half was knocked aside by defender Parker Erickson.
In the second half Tanner Settles used fancy footwork to escape two Mitchell defenders and lift VHS to a 3-0 lead. After Mitchell scored on a penalty kick that had first been ruled not good, James answered with a header off an Eric Storm corner kick to complete his hat trick.
Andrew Kost made eight saves in goal for VHS.
Sturgis, coming into the game here after its first loss of the year in 11 games, might have expected a breather, but they got a tough fight from the Tanagers. The Scoopers took plenty of shots at the Vermillion goal, but keeper Alex Robertson made eight saves in the first half and 13 in the second half, and the VHS defense was superb for two-thirds of the contest.
Camden Raizola prevented a Sturgis goal in the early going by kicking the ball away from right in front of the net. Sturgis did score once in the first half on a 40-foot laser shot.
Raizola got himself in the way of a clear Sturgis shot early in the second half to keep the game at 1-0, and Nick Britten and Kevin Callahan likewise broke up Sturgis scoring chances.
A successful penalty kick swung momentum to Sturgis. So did their keeper's blocking a Levi James penalty kick attempt. A breakaway goal made it 3-0, and Sturgis scored again late to end at 4-0 a game which was closer than that score might indicate.
The St. Thomas More game was just what the doctor ordered for the Tanagers. James again ignited the Tanagers, and he quickly made it 2-0 on Tim Tigert's assist. Alex Thoms drove down the right side and beat his defender and the Cavalier keeper for a 3-0 lead.
In the second half Tigert converted a penalty kick. Erickson stole the ball and sent a sweet lead pass to James, who shifted the ball over to Tigert for the goal.
Tanner Settles placed the ball efficiently for James to score yet again. James then made it 7-0 on an assist from Callahan on a beautiful full-speed-ahead charge down the right side of the field.
Thanks to his team's defense, Robertson didn't have to work quite so hard as he had against Sturgis, but the VHS keeper did record five saves.
Girls coach Dave LaCombe credited his defense led by Shelby Gregoire, Lacy Leichtnam, Tracy Howe and Kortni Walker for their effort against Sturgis as the Tanagers gained their third straight win.
Sophie Nehlich-Arroba gave VHS a 2-0 halftime lead. It became 3-0 on a breakway by Megan Bottolfson after the Sturgis keeper came out to stop Bottolfson's drive but saw the Tanager skip right past her for a wide-open goal.
After the Scoopers' only goal, Morgan Erickson, going one-on-one straight at the keeper, drilled the ball past her high into the net to complete the 4-1 win.
Katie Wasley had five saves in goal. Hannah Nehlich-Arobba, Tori Gregoire and Sophie Nehlich-Arobba had assists for VHS.
A penalty kick got St. Thomas More's unbeaten club going Saturday, but the Tanagers kept it at a 1-0 deficit for a long time. A long, high shot into the top of the net over Wasley's head, and a goal off a corner kick made it 3-0. A late goal completed the scoring.
"The score shouldn't dictate how our team played," LaCombe said. "We played them tough. We are challenging ourselves every match. We are playing better, and this should give us the momentum we will need to enter the state tournament."