Starr’s Mill is back on top of the state. For the sixth time in school history and the first since 2010, the Lady Panthers are state soccer champions, beating the Northgate Vikings 2-0 on Saturday at Mercer University.
The players summed up the excitement of winning simply and perfectly.
“Amazing. Incredible. Indescribable,” said Chayla Park.
“It feels surreal,” added Carly Pressgrove.
“It’s the best way to end senior year by far,” said Paige Betsill.
What made the win even sweeter for this crew is the heartache they went through just last season. The Panthers were in the title game then too, but they came out on the wrong end with a 4-1 loss to McIntosh. They had all this year to battle to make sure that result didn’t happen again.
“It’s ten times better after last year,” said Kayla Feigenbaum. “We came together as a team, and we worked our butts off for this.”
Their coach echoed how much went into this one special victory.
“It feels good,” said John Bowen. “It’s been constant this year that we had to just keep going. We couldn’t quit. We would fall behind early and come back and win. Today, the important thing was, from the beginning, we’re not waiting to get kick-started.”
That loss to McIntosh played a big role in shaping the turnaround.
“Honestly, last year taught us a lot. I felt like last year, on that day, I was a bad coach because I made it too much about the moment and not about the game,” said Bowen. “Today, we talked about how we’ve been playing since we were six-years old and the game hasn’t changed. No matter where we’re at, who we’re playing, what the distractions are, we focus on that and everything else will be fine.”
Tracing the teams success actually goes back farther than that if you ask Bowen. For this senior class, the ending is a complete 180-degree change.
“Their freshman year was the first-ever losing season (in team history). It was just really a struggle,” said Bowen. The girls weren’t satisfied with losing. They were hungry to work. “When I came in, everybody wanted to work. They have been fantastic. They’re hard workers. They’re just good kids.”
It took constant vigilance for the team just to get to the title game. Ranked in the top five of AAAAA all season, Starr’s Mill should have been destined for an easy path to the finals, but nothing comes easy for members of the “Region of Death.” The Panthers beat Northgate 1-0 in their regular season, but, because they fell flat in a 4-1 loss to McIntosh, they were relegated to a three seed out of their region. That sent them on the road for the entirety of the state playoffs. Each step along the way, they made a new town their conquest. It seems only fitting then that they won the state title on another pitch far from home down at Mercer University in Macon.
The dedication to return home winners was obvious from the outset against Northgate as the team took control of the tempo and never eased back.
Offensively, Lauren Yoss wreaked havoc up the flank, while Riley Clark dominated in the middle of the field. Ashley Broderick, Carly Pressgrove, Kayla Feigenbaum, and Macey Voorhies ran circles around the Vikings all match.
The defense, headed up by Dylan Patterson, Chayla Park, Hannah Fertig, and Ashton Nowicki, was impenetrable. They barely let Northgate near the box, much less get a shot on goal. In the extremely rare instances when they did, keeper Paige Betsill was perfect.
Starr’s Mill nearly started the scoring in the game’s eighteenth minute. Lauren Yoss launched a long throw in the box that Pressgrove chipped over to Clark, but the shot missed wide. The team kept pressing, and, before long, they broke through. Yoss scored the game’s opening goal near the half’s midway point, slipping the ball in the near post off a header from Ashley Broderick.
The Panthers were close to scoring again ten minutes later when Yoss lofted the ball into the box, but Clark’s header missed just over the crossbar.
Northgate provided the only other tally for the Panthers. In the forty-fourth minute, Yoss against put the ball in the box, but a Viking defender was in position. Unfortunately for Northgate, her attempt to clear the ball out the backend found the corner of the net.
The own-goal would make it a 2-0 margin, more than enough for Starr’s Mill to lock in. The Panthers were able to salt away the remainder of the match, keeping the ball past midfield most of the day. Northgate’s lone good look came midway through the second half when a forward slipped through the defense for a one-on-one showdown. Betsill charged and forced a bad shot, keeping her shutout intact.
The remainder of the match saw the Panthers go unchallenged as the clock wound down to another title. The bitter memories of last year’s loss are gone now, replaced by championship rings. Starr’s Mill is back on top.
For more photos from the game, click [btn type=”default or primary or success or info or warning or danger or link” link=”http://www.cdphotography23.com/Sports/High-School/Soccer/Soccer-2015/Starrs-Mill-State-Championship/”]here[/btn].