KENNEWICK -- It's been nearly two weeks since the Southridge girls soccer team finished third at the 3A state tournament in Lakewood.
But Heather Johnson, the Herald's All-Area Most Valuable Player, is already hungry to get back to Harry E. Lang Stadium for another shot at a state title.
"It's awesome to step on the field and know you're one of the last four teams left," said Johnson, the first junior to earn the honor since Richland midfielder Brittney Dugger in 2002. "(The state semifinals) brings out a whole different player. You just want to go out and fight and battle."
The tenacious forward was instrumental in the Suns' first-ever run to the Final Four, scoring 31 goals and adding 18 assists -- both school records -- during a memorable and historic season.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Johnson was quick to deflect the spotlight, but she often carried her team on offense, recording six hat tricks during the regular season to lift Southridge to a share of its second CBBN title in three years.
Still, her favorite moments were often the ones when others got to shine.
"I loved watching other people feel the glory of game-winners and just watching the girls work hard," Johnson said.
In fact, she delivered the assist that set up Michelle Foster's game-deciding goal in a 1-0 win over Prairie in the 3A consolation match. The resulting third-place trophy was the second-highest finish in any sport in Southridge history.
"I don't want to say too much about one player, but we put a ton on her shoulders and she never complained," said Suns' coach Riley Dodson, who got the Coach of the Year nod. "With as much weight as we put on her, it could've gone the other way."
Not likely, though, in Johnson's case. Her strength on the field and ferocious competitive desire made things extremely tough for opposing defenders. One of them in particular, however, earned her utmost respect this season.
"Cari Exarhos will give it right back," Johnson said of Hanford's junior defender, who makes her first appearance on the All-Area team. "She can hang with me. She's a good defender who made me struggle sometimes."
Johnson isn't planning to take any time off from soccer. She'll head straight into her club season with the Three Rivers U-17 Velocity.
"There are a lot of girls from high school on the club team," she said. "Once high school (season) ends, we're all the best of friends."
Dodson stepped in as the Suns' interim coach while Greg Sambrano took a year off to spend time with his family. Sambrano will return to coach the girls next season, so Dodson made a point of appreciating every moment he had with the talent he inherited.
But Dodson kept the team motivated and maintained a rare cohesiveness that proved invaluable in the end.
"(Coach of the Year) is more of a team honor. You need the players to get it done. We also had a really good coaching staff," Dodson said. "The season was really rewarding. You don't realize how hard it is to get to the Final Four.
"Before the Mt. Spokane game, I told them, 'I don't want this to be the last game I coach you guys."
Johnson is one of four repeat selections to the first team, including Sam Lee and Kenzie Lubeck of Richland. Prosser forward Helen Petersen earned her third first-team honor after leading the CWAC in scoring for the third consecutive season.
Rounding out the first team is Bria Caldwell and Kirsten Calmus of Richland; Ingrid Stein, Meghan Sorensen and Paige Sorensen of Southridge; Exarhos and Kie Johnson of Hanford; Erin Huisingh of Chiawana; and Lauren McKinney of Kamiakin.
F -- Heather Johnson, jr., Southridge (MVP)
F -- Bria Caldwell, sr., Richland
F -- Erin Huisingh, sr., Chiawana
F -- Helen Petersen, jr., Prosser
MF -- Sam Lee, sr., Richland
MF -- Paige Sorensen, sr., Southridge
MF -- Cari Exarhos, jr., Hanford
MF -- Kirsten Calmus, soph., Richland
D -- Kie Johnson, sr., Hanford
D -- Meghan Sorensen, sr., Southridge
D -- Lauren McKinney, sr., Kamiaikin
D -- Kenzie Lubeck, sr., Richland
GK -- Ingrid Stein, jr., Southridge
Coach -- Riley Dodson, Southridge
Lexi Miller, soph., Chiawana
Lindsay Garza, sr., Othello
Yesenia Alvarado, jr., Richland
Mallorie McDowell, sr., Kamiakin
Magie Munoz, sr., Moses Lake
Katie Arendt, sr., Chiawana
Kat Tsoukalas, jr., Southridge
Oryian Matheny, soph., Grandview
Brooke Adams, sr., Prosser
Lexi Ellingsen, fr., Chiawana
Kendall Riddelle, jr., Hanford
Breanna Scott, sr., Kiona-Benton
Shelby Long, jr., Richland
Maci Whitby, sr., Connell