The Meridian Star
It's the first year of a partnership between the high school soccer summer league and the State Games, but the hometown girls on the Meridian Cats are trying to run everyone out of town.
Playing in the second week of the tournament, Meridian shut out West Lauderdale, 1-0, at Northeast Park on a sticky Tuesday night.
"It was real hot, the sun was draining on both teams, but the second half we played a lot better," Meridian coach Mike Smith said. "I was happy with how we played over all."
The win puts the Cats at 2-0, while the Knights fall to 1-1 in competition.
"It was a good game, but I definitely think Meridian had the better side tonight," Knights coach Sonja Rowell said. "We're missing a lot of girls [this week]."
After all six teams have played each other, winners for gold, silver and bronze will be decided based on points, not a championship game.
Smith said he likes the new format of the summer league.
"You're actually playing for something," Smith said.
Despite the conditions, both teams showed up ready to play and took a scoreless game into the halfway point.
"I don't think we played very well in the first half," Smith said. "We couldn't finish a lot of our chances."
However, Meridian goalie Kelly Bator was there when the Knights attempted to knock on the door. Whether it was a simple clear, a point-blank shot or a diving stop needed, Bator patrolled her box to earn the shutout.
But she couldn't have done it without the Cats getting on the board halfway through the second half.
Kaylee Zettler had the answer.
After numerous attempts, she found the back of the net with the sun to her back while weaving through traffic just outside the box. She lifted the ball just over and to the right of Maggie Wooldridge for the night's only tally.
"She had had a few chance before that on, like four of five be that and finally got one to go in," Smith said. "She probably deserved to have two or three, but she looked through it, battled through it, and got her goal. I'm proud of her."
Smith said that playing in 6A during the school year has allowed the girls to be in tough competition and makes them tough to beat. Additionally, many also play on club teams and will be competing with their teams this weekend in the U16 tournament, putting experience at the highest level, despite being a younger group.
"I think we have a lot of speed, I think we have a lot of athletic ability," he said. "I think we're the best team in the tournament.
"You know, I just think we have a kind of swagger."