After an intense nail-biting game, Central’s girls soccer team is headed to Murfreesboro to compete in the State tournament for the first time in program history.
It’d been a long road for the Lady Bobcats this season but their perseverance paid off in a big way this postseason.
After the end of the regular season, the team faced off against Carter on October 17 in the final game of the District 3 tournament coming away with a 7-0 win and the district title that’d been eluding them for multiple seasons. They celebrated with the championship
plaque but knew this wasn’t the end. They got back to work after the weekend, gearing up for the Region AAA tournament. They beat Grainger County 2-1 the following Tuesday to advance to the Region AAA final against Gibbs.
Thursday October 24, the Lady Bobcats and a band of supporters consisting of parents, students, administrators, and teachers traveled to Gibbs High School to cheer on the girls as they attempted to clinch their second region title in three years. The game drew
the largest crowd to a high school soccer game that Knoxville has ever seen, with over a thousand people in attendance and the girls took advantage of it. Regulation time ended with a score of 0-0 and overtime ended after senior midfielder Kyleigh Haught (8) scored two goals. Even after another celebration and another plaque, the team kept their eyes on the prize: a trip to the state tournament.
The following Saturday, the Lady Bobcats took the field at home against Seymour to decide which team would advance to the TSSAA State Tournament. They fell to Seymour in this same sub-state game last year and everyone in Fountain City was hoping for a different outcome this year. After a slow first half, it still seemed like anyones’ game. However, coming out of halftime, Seymour scored the first goal of the game. When
it seemed like Central would go under with only a few minutes remaining and the scoreboard still showing 0-1, sophomore forward Lyric Fowler (3) weaved her way through Seymour defenders and scored to put Central on the board and tie the game.
The girls held off Seymour’s offense for the rest of the game to force overtime, which consists of two ten minute halves. Seymour scored early in the first half of overtime and once again Central came back with a goal headed in by Haught from a corner kick. After the second half of overtime still ending in a tie, it was time for a penalty kick shootout.
In soccer, a penalty kick is when the goalkeeper and an opposing player are one on one with no one else: the kicking player tries to score and the keeper tries to block it. After two halves of overtime and a tie still remains, each team gets five penalty kicks, alternating turns.
As both teams lined up on the 50 yard-line to begin the shootout, tensions were high. Someone’s season would end here today. One team needed to make or block more shots than the other. Senior goalkeeper Ashton Blair (29) took position in the goal and Seymour’s first kicker lined up. Both teams made their first and second penalty kick (Haught and Fowler) putting the shootout score at 2-2. The next attempt from sophomore Dani Makres (9) was blocked, as was Seymour’s. On their fourth attempt, Seymour’s kick was blocked and Central’s was made by senior Kaitlynn Decker (26). The PK score was 3-2; if Central blocked the next kick they’d guaranteed themselves a spot in the state tournament with a PK to spare.
But Seymour made the next kick. If Central makes their last kick, they advance to the state tournament; if they miss, another agonizing set of five penalty kicks begins until someone comes out on top. Goalkeeper Ashton Blair, who commited to play at East Tennessee State University earlier this season, stepped up to take the shot. The stands were silent. She takes the shot and it’s made! Her teammates embrace her with tears rolling down their faces. The Central Lady Bobcats were going to the State Tournament for the first time ever.
While there was no award to present after this game, the celebration was more intense than ever. After the team huddled for an post-game talk from head coach Bill Mize and assistant coach Kellie Gilliam, finished their after game routine, and posed for many pictures, their fans created a tunnel for them to run under as they left the field and were greeted by friends and family.
The team was ready to take the trip to Murfreesboro on Tuesday October 30, but due to weather, the tournament was postponed to this week.
Join the sendoff for the girls as they leave for the tournament on Tuesday November 5 at 2:00 in the breezeway. Their first game of the tournament is Wednesday November 6 at 4:30 at Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro.
Pictures from John Valentine and Ella Wilds
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