When your end goal is a championship, it’s all about peaking at the right time, and the Whitewater Lady Wildcats are doing just that. Entering the playoffs an underdog, the Cats punched their return ticket to the state championship game with a 2-1 overtime road win against the Carrollton Trojans Tuesday night.
Their 12-8-2 record doesn’t tell the whole story. The Cats graduated a host of key figures from last year’s title team, and a bevy of young players, including seven freshmen, were thrown into the fire against a brutally tough schedule. The road was filled with bumps, but it molded the team into a tough unit back in the championship game.
“It’s pretty awesome. Back-to- back is something I didn’t really anticipate at the beginning of the year, but the girls keep coming out and putting it on and going out there trying to get a little better everyday,” said head coach Randy Hayes. “They’ve been showing some people up and proving some people wrong.”
The semifinal match was another example of their growth. Back in February, the Cats travelled to Carrollton and lost 2-0 in a downpour.
“It really wasn’t the kind of match that we needed to play. It was early in the season, and the girls hadn’t figured out who was doing what and how much did they trust each other,” said Hayes. “But it was good experience.”
Flash forward to Tuesday night and they turned the tables on the Trojans. Their backs were against the wall, trailing 1-0 heading into the second half. It all turned around when Jolie Ryff launched a rocket from 25 yards out into the net. It tied up the match and lit a fire under the squad.
“When she hit it, I said, ‘Oh wow!’ I knew it was in,” said Hayes. “When she did that, I said let’s see what we do with that, and the girls all stepped it up and started playing with some intensity.”
Late in the game, the odds were slanted against the Cats when senior Madison Wright was handed her second yellow card, knocking her out of both the finish of the Carrollton game and the title match. Undermanned and undeterred, the Cats shook off the disadvantage of playing with one less player.
Regulation was not enough to decide a victor, but not much of overtime would be required. Just over a minute in, Kayla Williams beat the keeper for a 2-1 lead. The Cats held on tight from there, burning off the rest of the 15-minute overtime period for the victory.
“All in all, the effort just continued to get better from start to finish. Nobody was leaning back and saying ‘We’ve got this, we don’t have to do anything,’” said Hayes. “Everybody was working to the end, which I think is a key attribute of this team.”
Next up for the Cats is a familiar foe in McIntosh, marking the second year in a row they will play for the championship. The 2019 edition is set for Saturday, May 18 at noon at Mercer University.
Jennifer Lyons contributed to this story.