The Meridian girls' soccer team has worked hard to get to where it is — at the top of the local high school soccer world after winning the gold medal in the State Games high school soccer tournament on Tuesday.
"I'm very proud of the girls, they did good," head coach Mike Smith said. "Five weeks, five games. They did good."
After rain washed out a week of play, the Wildcats – and all teams – had to play back-to-back nights this week.
Meridian topped Choctaw Central, 2-1, on Monday. Smith said the team didn't play well but still walked away with the win and in position for the gold.
It returned the following night to shut out Northeast, 6-0.
"We were missing some people last night, and today too, but they played good enough last night to win and they played really good today," Smith said.
"They knew if they won this game, we were going to get the gold, so they were focused."
Entering Tuesday, a win against Northeast in the first game of the night would out right hand them the title – a first in State Games history thanks to the new partnership with summer league soccer. A loss could send them to tie breakers with Lamar.
Five first half goals and a sixth in the second shut out the Trojans and sealed the championship.
Smith said that the opening and closing goals of the game were executed perfectly.
Two combination plays moving up the field, one at midfield and a second at the top of the box, put the ball at Kaylee Zettler's feet. Zettler quickly found the back of the net to break the scoreless game. But she wasn't done, connecting later in the game and earning an assist on the final goal.
"The last one was one of the best for sure," Smith said.
Zettler dropped the ball back to Alyssa Goodman at the top of the box. Goodman planted it into the left top corner.
The tournament win is the second this school year as the same group of girls brought the Lauderdale County Tournament title to Meridian in November.
"They are excited about the program," Smith said. "They want to be apart of the program."
But once upon a time, Meridian wasn't known for girls soccer.
Smith said he now has girls moving into the district to play for the Wildcats, like his goalie, Kelly Bator.
Bator, he said, is everything you want in a goalie: patrols the box, is vocal and overall just a great keeper.
"To be a ninth grader, she plays like a sophomore or junior," Smith said.
Her work was on display in the finale as Northeast continually looked to get on the board throughout the game.
Bator, Zettler. Goodman and the rest of the team's drive has propelled the Wildcats into the competitive soccer scene. Smith hopes winning the gold medal will push them through next season.
"I think it sets the standard of what we're trying to do," Smith said. "I think we're the best team in the county and we've proven it in the past year. We're very young so that's where we've set the bar."
Girls’ Junior Varsity
Gold: West Lauderdale
Bronze: West Lauderdale
Silver: West Lauderdale #1
Bronze: West Lasuderdale #2