RIDGELAND — Last year, the West Lauderdale girls soccer team scored two first-half goals and fell to Florence 3-2 in overtime during the MHSAA Class 4A state championship game.
This year, a single goal would have been enough. The Lady Knights used three to shut out Florence and win their third state title in four seasons, avenging the loss against Florence from a year ago in the process.
“The truth is, after last year, we were very intent on coming in here today and making a statement,” West Lauderdale girls soccer coach Alex George said. “We wanted to leave no doubt today, and I think the game speaks for itself.”
The Lady Knights stayed aggressive throughout the duration of the game, resulting in three first-half goals and no shots on goal by Florence in the second half. In fact, the Lady Eagles managed just one shot on goal in the entire contest, giving West Lauderdale keeper Kristin Hayes her only save.
Senior Caroline Green got West Lauderdale its first goal in the eighth minute, and the Lady Knights made it 2-0 in the 24th minute when Ember Temple scored on a header off an assist by Alice Williamson. Jada Smith, the Lady Knights’ other senior, made it 3-0 off a penalty kick when Florence was called for a hand ball in the 30th minute.
West Lauderdale’s passes were crisp and often on point, which allowed the Lady Knights to move the ball and maintain pressure on the Lady Eagles. Thursday, Temple recalled poor teamwork being a contributing factor in the Lady Knights’ title-game loss last year and said it was the opposite Saturday.
“Last year, we were very messed up,” Temple said. “We could not get our foot on the ball and were freaking out, but this year we just played our game, slowed it down and passed well, so we played 100-percent better.”
The shutout capped off a postseason run in which the Lady Knights didn’t give up a single goal, outscoring their four playoff opponents 33-0. Sophomore Addisyn Pope credited George’s coaching with the team’s defensive success throughout the entire year.
“Coach George has really worked on us in the midfield as far as how to defend the other team, and we just perfected it well,” Pope said.
Pope played a big part in West Lauderdale’s shutout Saturday, earning praise from George for her ability to help shut down Florence’s attempts to push the ball up the field.
“Addisyn has come in and done that all year long,” George said of his defensive center midfielder. “In the formation we’re in, she’s one of the most important pieces there, because she’s that holding player. She did one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of shutting down their counterattack.”
Pope said she was more than happy to do her part, even if it wasn’t as flashy as scoring a goal.
“Just getting the ball in the middle and then turning and looking for the other side and switching the field a bunch,” Pope said when asked what the key to her success was.
The Lady Knights had several more chances to score in the second half but couldn’t quite find the net. It didn’t cost West Lauderdale, though, and the constant shots on goal were a big help in keeping Florence off the board.
“It really helps (the defense) a lot,” Pope said. “Us keeping possession, it takes a load off the defense.”
Temple said she had no regrets as far as not scoring in the second half. Getting the win was all that mattered to her.
“We played as hard as we could, and we went out with a bang, so we’re good with that,” Temple said.
Overall, George said his team stuck with the successful formula it’s had all postseason: playing loose and not letting the other team dictate the flow of the game.
“Nothing really changed with us,” George said. “We stayed comfortable, and we kept winning the 50-50 balls at midfield, and from there, our buildup play continued to be fairly decent. … Our biggest emphasis was maintaining control of the game, and we had concentrated on making sure we cut off their outlets, making sure we didn’t let them develop a buildup play, and we did that.”
Green, who doesn’t plan to play soccer in college, said she couldn’t have scripted a better final game for her high school career.
“I wanted to end things on a good note,” Green said. “All these years, soccer has been everything to me, and I feel like I don’t know what I’m going to do without it. To end it on a good note allows me to move on.”
Smith, a Jones College signee, said she’s grateful to have been a part of the previous two titles, but the third one was extra-special due to it being a sendoff game for her.
“This feels amazing,” Smith said. “There’s no better way to top off your senior season than to win a state championship.”
For both Green and Smith, the other West Lauderdale players are more than teammates.
“They’re like a family,” Green said. “They mean everything to me. This wouldn’t have happened without them. It took all of us to win this game. We’ve gotten so close.”
Said Smith, “They’re like my sisters. We argue together, we laugh together, and they all have a special place in my heart.”
END OF SEASON
The Lady Knights finished the year 24-0-3 with a No. 1 ranking in Mississippi and a No. 6 national ranking by MaxPreps.com.