The North Marion girls soccer team had waited nearly four years for this moment. What's an extra 30 minutes?
The Huskies concluded an incredible run to an improbable season on Saturday, April 10, by winning the championship game of the 4A Elite Eight Showcase tournament, downing the Marist Spartans 6-5 in penalty kicks to win the first state championship trophy in program history.
"This mean — it's not everything — but it's close to everything," North Marion senior Mya Hammack said. "We've all been working for this since freshman year. It's just so satisfying to know that all the hard work we've all put in finally paid off."
The victory was the culminating game in an unlikely playoff tournament. Although the OSAA canceled state championship playoffs this year, the organization left each classification to figure out its own post season during the final week of the season. The 4A athletic directors pulled together an eight-team tournament bracket based on the truncated league play, played all in the span of five days. While it remains to be seen if the OSAA counts the championship game as an official state title in the record books, every team that competed treated it as such and knew what was on the line.
"I'm a girl from the other team, this is on the record — it is a state championship," Marist senior captain Avery Anderson said.
"I'm going to call it that, and I think most teams that participated in it believe that," Hammack said. "You can always add 'Covid style' or something like that. To us it means the world."
"I think to everyone here, it's legit," North Marion sophomore Adrie Lader said. "I know it's not hosted the way it normally is, but to us it is exactly what it was last year. We are state champions. We made it all the way and it's for real."
Lader delivered the coup de gras for the Huskies after the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in regulation and overtime and were knotted at 4-4 in penalty kicks after the first five attempts.
After Marist and North Marion each converted on their teams' sixth attempt, Spartan freshman Savannah Crawford sent her attempt wide of the goal, leaving the door open for Lader to clinch the victory on her ensuing attempt. Lader looked left and shot right, sending the ball past keeper Tessa Woodrum to deliver the historic title victory for the Huskies.
"I was beyond nervous," Lader said. "I was just trying to keep composed to get my shot in. We've been practicing all season, so it was just remembering what I practiced and staying calm. It was nerve-wracking, but it's amazing."
Penalty kick pressure
The Huskies had a chance to win the game in the first round of penalty kicks after keeper Mallory Patzer blocked the Spartans' opening shot. North Marion and Marist combined to make the next eight shots, leaving Huskies senior Danielle Christenson with the game-winning attempt as the two teams were tied at 4-4. Christenson aimed her shot to the left, where it was answered by Woodrum, who kept the Marist season alive for a few more moments and sent both team into a second round of PKs.
"I obviously had lot of pressure on me shooting that fifth PK and knowing that's what could win the game," Christenson said. "That was my first PK ever in high school. First and last, so it meant a lot to me."
Christenson is part of a senior class that includes Hammack, Hailey Welch, Katie Zapata and Carter Crawford, who have been a part of the program for four years and helped usher in a new era of excellence for North Marion girls soccer. The team won a program-best 13 games in their first season in 2017 before being bounced in the state quarterfinals. The Huskies' ensuing championship runs in 2018 and 2019 fell short, and it appeared their title dreams would go unfulfilled until the OSAA gave the green light to compete earlier this year.
"We learned we couldn't have high hopes," Christenson said. "Once we found out we could have a season, we knew that we were going to put in every single thing we had. Every game we were saying we play with heart, we play with everything we had."
Christenson's penalty kick wasn't the only potential game-winner for the Huskies. After Marist's Anna Watts and Hammack traded goal toward the end of the first half, Zapata sent a 35-yard free kick in the 38th minute off the cross bar.
'Kind of a miracle'
In the second half, Welch's 49th minute corner kick was headed by Hammack toward the goal, but it was slapped out by Woodrum. Welch had another shot attempt six minutes later, a 40-yard bomb that caromed down off the field goal uprights that were a few feet above the goal. The ball bounced down and rolled back into the net, but officials ruled it was a dead ball after it connected with the uprights.
Marist had its own near goals. With 20 minutes left to play, the Spartans sent a corner kick that was buffeted by the wind and curved into a sure goal that was batted out by Patzer. At the 75-minute mark, freshman Cloe Chase booted a 25-yard shot that hit the North Marion cross bar and bounced out of bounds.
Despite the close calls, the Huskies were confident throughout.
"I'm feeling good," Zapata said. "I'm not surprised, because I know we had this. We all wanted it from the start."
"It's been four years," Welch said. "We've been waiting for this moment. I assume it's going to go on the records, because it's a big moment for us. The first time ever girls soccer has won state champs. We're making history."
Regardless of what the official books say, the North Marion Huskies and their fans know exactly what this game means.
"I think it's kind of a miracle," Christenson said. "We got to pull through in a pandemic and had a season, without a pre-season. It's very well deserved."
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