ASHLAND - It was about the journey, not the destination.
So even though the Wright City girls soccer team was shutout 9-0 by host Southern Boone in Tuesday’s Class 2 District 8 championship, the smiles stretched ear to ear in the aftermath.
The goal was just getting there. And what a ride that was.
The ’Cats really did have nine lives in Saturday night’s semifinals matchup against No. 2-seeded Mexico. They withstood a whirlwind of adversity that included a two-goal deficit early in the second half, a Mexico go-ahead score in the final 10 minutes of regulation, two overtime periods and two rounds of penalty kicks to prevail 4-3, tasting victory in the first-year program’s first-ever postseason game.
“It was rush the field and dog pile in celebration for the girls when we won. Of course, I walked off cool and calmly because I have ice in my veins, but I was jumping up and down on the inside,” deadpanned Wright City Head Coach Devin Raney.
But Raney was dead serious when he said he didn’t think the team would bring home a playoff plaque back to Warren County at the start of the campaign. Expectations were tempered, but the bar kept rising after each on-field success.
“We came into the season really just hoping to keep interest up and keep the girls excited about soccer. Then we realized, hey, we can actually win a game. Then, oh wait, we can win a couple games. And it kind of just went from there to this point, which is amazing to reach. I couldn’t be more pleased or proud with the effort of the girls and how our season went.”
There were plenty of heroes in Wright City’s downing of the ’Dogs.
Sophomore Hannah Kendall finally got the Wildcats on the scoreboard in the second half when she took advantage of a Mexico miscommunication, intercepting a sloppy pass from the defense intended for their keeper to make the score 2-1. And an Ellie Rodriguez goal knotted it near the midway point.
The Wright City momentum seemed to deflate when Mexico’s Kyleigh Wayman put her team back in front 3-2 with 10 minutes remaining. But the Wildcats countered quickly with Kendall going on a breakaway and scoring on a rebound after her initial shot bounced off the goalie with just six minutes to go.
Two scoreless OTs later meant the outcome would be decided by PKs. And after six shooters, Amerie Henke pumped in the game-winning kick for Wright City to send the squad into delirium.
The Wildcats’ PK opportunities piled up thanks to some solid work in net by goalie Sara Deane, who like her coach also seemed to have ice in her veins.
“We owe a lot to Sara,” Raney said. “She made four saves in PKs, which is incredible. She deserves a lot of credit because we don’t make it to the championship without her.”
But there was nothing Deane could really do in Tuesday’s title match to slow down high-powered Southern Boone, ranked No. 6 overall in the Class 2 state rankings.
The Eagles scored 27 seconds in, led 6-0 at halftime and outshot Wright City 43-2. Freshman Jersee Wren notched a hat trick to lead the hosts to their 23rd win of the campaign and their third consecutive district championship.
They play either Lutheran St. Charles or St. Charles West in a sectional matchup Saturday.
Wright City finished its inaugural season 7-9.
“There’s a lot of things we can pick up from (Southern Boone), especially different offensive and defensive strategies” Raney said. “That’s an amazing team. They’re unreal and getting to play against them is only going to make us better. We’re not discouraged by the score or anything like that.
“We’re just going to keep looking up. We’re losing eight seniors so we have some replenishing to do but we’re going to come back and come back stronger, and add to our hardware with another plaque.”