By Wil Crews
It took two overtime periods and penalty kicks, but the Smiths Station Lady Panthers soccer team fell, 2-1 (4-1 on penalty kicks), to the Enterprise Wildcats in the AHSAA 7A State Girls Soccer Tournament semifinals last weekend.
“I told them after the game, they not only have made me extremely proud, but they have made their community, their school, their teammates, their peers, they made everybody proud,” said head coach Dennis Jones. “I let them know basically that they are the greatest team to ever play at Smiths Station.”
Entering the matchup, the two teams had met once before this season, with Enterprise getting the best of Smiths, 8-3.
“That was our worst game of the season,” Jones said.
So, before the game clock officially started, Jones was preparing his team to stick to their game plan – which focused on disrupting the oppositions two playmaking forwards.
“We knew exactly who we needed to shut down and we did exactly what we needed to do,” Jones said. “Our M.O. is usually to score early and then just hunker down and play defense and we did exactly that.”
Spurred on by their experience, confidence and staunch defense, the Panthers were able to put the ball in the back of the net first with a Morgan Ritter goal (possibly an own goal) early in the first half.
“We knew we could beat them and we thought we were going to beat them,” Jones said.
However, thanks to a blunder from Smiths, Enterprise responded within the next 10 minutes to level the game at 1-1.
Coming out of the half time break, Smiths’ game plan remained the same.
“Let’s just hunker down and play good defense and play for the PK’s,” Jones told his team. “We did have some scoring opportunities, but we knew that our main objective in the second half was to play good defense – and we did that.”
The two teams continued on throughout the second half and two overtime periods, countering each other’s strategies like two grand masters of the sport.
Jones remained confident in his squad, however.
“We thought if we could get them to PK’s then we would be alright,” he said. “But it just didn’t work out for us this time.”
After what seemed like marathons of running, the two teams lined up for what is quite possibly the most exhilarating game-deciding ritual in sports – PK’s. Both teams had their gas tanks on empty. In the end, Jones thinks tired legs did his girls in.
“My girls were just wore slap out,” he said. “They were dragging. They were tired.”
Enterprise buried four kicks to the Panther’s one. The Wildcats advanced, Smiths went packing. The agony of defeat versus the thrill of victory.
Regardless, the Panthers can celebrate a successful season, finishing with a 14-5-3 record and the school’s first ever final four in boys or girls’ soccer.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Jones said. “They played well together, they love each other, they are basically best friends out there on the field and they couldn’t have played any better if I dreamt it up.”
Jones gave a commendation to his seniors – a group of nine that he calls “special.”
“To be honest with you, they are going to be hard to replace,” he said. “I can’t say enough about them. It’s the most talented group of graduating players that I’ve had at one time. That’s the reason we were able to get as far as we did because we had a group that worked so well together and they have been playing for a long time together.”
Looking forward, Jones said next year will be a little bit of a “rebuilding season,” but he’s looking forward to next season’s work.
Lastly, Jones gave a final praise and thanks regarding the support his team received.
“I just want to give a shout-out to the community and to the school. I wasn’t even aware of this until we were leaving on Thursday afternoon but they arranged a big send off for the girls. The girls did a team walk through the school. Law enforcement, the fire trucks and all those EMT guys was out there. The band came out and played for us. It was really special it was something special for the girls to see and witness and know that it was for them. Thanks for making the team feel loved and appreciated.”