A new chapter in the storied history between the McIntosh Lady Chiefs and the Whitewater Lady Wildcats came down to 12 yards of field turf.
In front of a rabid split fan base, the gravity of 90 minutes of a grueling Class AAAAA state championship game was not enough to contain two dynamic girls’ soccer powerhouses. Only penalty kicks could decide this hotbed rivalry fueled with seismic emotions.
Whitewater head coach Randy Hayes had been in this situation before. In fact, he begrudgingly felt the spoils of defeat trying to slay his proverbial Goliath. He was on the wrong end of defeat five straight times as a coach on the Wildcats staff. Two of those losses came to McIntosh in 2011 and 2012.
He wasn’t going to suffer another loss this time.
With his signature cowboy brim hat and southern bravado, he turned to one of his senior leaders, goalie Abby Grandea, to get the job done. The goalkeeper had waited for this moment her entire playing career. As she huddled with her teammates, she let it be known that today Whitewater would rule the soccer world.
“I just had to let it go and give it all that I got,” Grandea said. “It was the last time that I ever had this chance.”
After the shaking off some inner nerves, Grandea stepped up to the front of the goal. McIntosh defender Emma Whitson greeted her and took the first PK shot.
Grandea jumped in front of the careening shot. It bounced off her shoulder and off the goal. The sound shook the Mercer Football Complex. Whitewater had a PK advantage.
“When I saved that first one, I knew that I had it,” Grandea said. “I couldn’t stop now.”
Wildcats defender Molly Downing stepped up next for her PK attempt. She took three steps and crushed it to the right side of the net.
McIntosh came back with sophomore Juliana Pickford to shoot next. She would nail her PK shot to tie it at 1-1. This set the stage for Wildcats’ Jolie Ryff. She connected and turned the momentum back to Whitewater.
With her mind on the championship, Grandea didn’t take her eyes off the impending challenge of Chiefs senior Hannah Ellison. It came down to who wanted it more. Ellison sent a screaming shot to the right of the net. Grandea dove and used all of her 5’4 frame to block the attempt. As a result, Whitewater was two shots away from victory.
After fellow Wildcats senior Abbie Crane nailed her PK shot, it was left up to McIntosh to keep their state title hopes alive. The Chiefs sent up Skylar Dzenis to attempt their fourth PK shot.
Dzenis went high off the crossbar as the ball just missed going in. What followed next was pure euphoria as Whitewater pulled off the upset, winning 3-1 on penalty kicks. It was their first state championship since 2007 and their second title win in school history.
“The girls worked hard all year long and I think they earned the championship,” Hayes said. “They had to earn it in penalty kicks and couldn’t miss any of their shots. We have been practicing it and they didn’t miss any shots.”
The win was a culmination of hard work for the Wildcats. After jumping out to an early 1-0 lead in the 11th minute, via a nifty Crane goal, the Wildcats had to hold on late. McIntosh scored in the 80th minute, nearly snatching the momentum. However, the Wildcats dug deep and pulled it out in the end.
“The girls played a great game and McIntosh had their inevitable tenacity to come back and score, tie it up and go to overtime,” Hayes said. “I would expect nothing less from a team like them as they are very well coached. They have a great attitude about it.”
Crane agreed and said the win was for everyone who is a part of the Wildcats family.
“It means everything as it is such a big deal for us and our community,” Crane said. “It has been 11 years since Whitewater has won it. To be a senior on the team and it being my last chance, I will remember this forever. It is the biggest thing in my life.”
McIntosh head coach Marcia Clark tipped her cap to the Wildcats. She was proud to be a part of such a great game. She felt her team was in it late, but just didn’t connect when they needed it the most.
“It’s always hard for the seniors when they are graduating and knowing it’s going to be your last game,” Clark said. “I felt they played great, especially in the second half. I hate it is the end of our season.”
The state championship validates a grueling year for the Wildcats. They started slow early in the season, but battled back against some elite soccer programs. However, they didn’t lose sight of their goals to be state champions.
From tough practices to late nights working on penalty kicks, the Wildcats responded to all adversity. They felt the moment belonged to them and they were determined to get it done. As they held up their soccer trophy and celebratory hats, they were adorned as champions.
“We wanted it more than they did and we went for it,” Grandea said. “It took determination and mind over matter. You have to have it or none of this can happen.”
With nine graduating seniors, the state championship will forever be a memory in their lifetime. Prestige was brought back to Whitewater on Friday night and Hayes couldn’t have been more proud. He finally conquered his crown jewel with one of his favorite squads.
“We did it today and the girls deserve everything,” Hayes said. “They are an awesome group of girls and have been all year long. They put forth the very best they could to win this game. They had to do it or McIntosh would’ve taken it. I am happy it was a great game and the girls have something to show for it.”
To see more photos from the game, click here.