The McIntosh Lady Chiefs are back on top of the state. For the tenth time, the Lady Chiefs are state champions, after surging in the second half en route to a 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Devils on the pitch at Mercer University Saturday evening.
“I’m really proud of the girls. They fought super hard,” said head coach Marcia Clark. “They’ve been working for this moment all season.”
The word that kept coming up in the celebration was work. The team fought for every inch all season to hoist that trophy, and they finally had time to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“This season, we put in our all. We definitely earned it,” said keeper Emily Lopez. “We put in so much hard work this whole season. It started five months ago, and for it to end this way is amazing.”
The Lady Chiefs upped their game when it counted the most, dominating the semifinals and finals with a combined 8-0 margin of victory. After handily beating their region rivals from Northgate, they were able to find that extra gear again in the second half to blow out Columbus.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” said Clark. “They finished hard and peaked in the end.”
As well as they played against Northgate, the team knew they had to stay locked in against a Columbus squad that knocked out the defending champs from Starr’s Mill in the Final Four.
“We had to come out, and we could’t be too confident,” said senior Caroline Laux. “We knew we had beaten them already this season (3-1 on Feb. 19), but we knew cockiness would be our enemy. We came out level-headed and worked our butts off.”
You couldn’t blame Laux if she had played with cockiness. After all, she did save her best for last, scoring twice in the semifinals and netting a hat trick in the title game.
“It’s an amazing way to go out,” said Laux, who had doubts about lacing it up again coming into the season. “I knew this was something I had to do. I knew this was a team that could take us to state. It’s a great way to go out.”
On a team of star efforts, she shone the brightest.
“She was a terror up there,” praised Clark. “She brought it hard. She brought it fast. There was just no answer for her.”
Part of the game plan coming in was to focus on set pieces against Columbus, and the preparation paid off. The first two goals came off of corner kicks from Chandler Witucki, paving the way for the win.
“We’ve been working on the set pieces a lot, and, as boring as it is in practice to spend that time and attention to detail on it, those two goals were what allowed us to relax and play the way we can play,” said Clark.
As they had done all year, the Chief defense simply suffocated the opposition, practically giving their keeper the night off again. The defense, led by Taylor Butler, Emma Whitson, Anna Brachy, and Witucki, only allowed a paltry nine goals all season.
“My backline is amazing. I love them,” beamed Lopez, saying that they definitely make her life easier.
The first half was an even battle, and possession swung back-and-forth, neither team able to really grab control. Veronica Cappas, Abbey Ott, and Hannah Ellison battled in the midfield to keep Columbus away from the goal.
Forwards Taylor Malasek, Caroline Chang, and Laux stayed on the attack, but the timing was just a tad off in the early going, leading to a number of offsides calls.
Top-notch subs like Savannah Soles, Kayla Wilcox, Lauryn Phillips, and Haley Mason kept the Blue Devils on their toes and allowed the starters to catch their breath with the offense not skipping a beat.
Later in the half, the Chiefs offense starting cracking the defense. In the 23rd minute off a Witucki free kick, Ott chipped the ball in, but it missed just high of the goal. With four minutes left in the half, Malasek faked her defender so badly she tumbled to the turf, but Columbus’s keeper made a diving save.
Columbus got their lone look of the half with three minutes left but missed wide to the left.
McIntosh came out in the second half with laser-like focus. Columbus got the ball over the top early in the half, but Whitson clamped down on the flank and cleared the ball out of bounds. The Blue Devils would get close on the corner, but their shot missed to the right, their best shot of the night to that point.
Shortly after, Laux would have a close call of her own, chipping the ball just inches to the left of the goal.
Laux did not stay down long. In the 48th minute, Laux headed a perfectly-placed Witucki corner into the net for the opening tally as the Chief fans exploded.
Eight minutes later, it was set pieces that did the trick again. Columbus nixed the corner attempt, booting it out of bounds to set up another try. This time Malasek corralled the Witucki corner and buried it for a 2-0 advantage.
Just past the midway mark, the Blue Devils nearly got their spark, but a free kick ricocheted off the crossbar and out of bounds for a goal kick.
McIntosh kept up the pressure, adding a little padding with under nine minutes to play. Columbus’s keeper charged and blocked a Malasek shot, but Laux was perfectly positioned for the rebound, putting it in for a 3-0 lead.
With two minutes left, Laux made it a hat trick as a pass over the top found her in stride for a breakaway. She beat the keeper one-on-one for the final tally in the 4-0 romp.
All that was left was for the defense to do what they do best and shut down the Blue Devils as the final seconds ticked away and the celebration began.
McIntosh finishes the season with a sterling 19-2 record and another big trophy for their mantle.
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