In a 4-0 sectional final win over Oregon on May 27, the Stillman Valley girls soccer team proved to be at a higher level than the Hawks.
But that result shouldn’t diminish what has been a remarkable rise from only seven total wins in the first two years of the program to playing for a sectional championship and finishing 16-7-1.
“I’m proud of how far we’ve came in three years and even how far we’ve came this season,” said Seger Larson, who started the program from scratch in 2017. “Just because we lost, there’s no reason to look down upon it. We had the support of the school, parents, administration and community. Hopefully, younger girls will want to be a part of it.”
The Hawk faithful, complete with a fan bus, outnumbered the crowd from Stillman Valley and cheered loudly any time Oregon’s offense would move the ball upfield. Unfortunately, it was the Cardinals providing the vast majority of offensive movement on a soggy field in Waterman.
“I thought we overcame the field conditions and handled it well,” SV coach Erin McMaster said. “We dictated play from the get-go.”
With 29:50 left in the first half, Kassidi Schabacker scored for the Cardinals on an open net situation. Hawk goal keeper Katelin Pudlas got out of position in the slippery conditions, enabling Schabacker to make it 1-0.
“It was just unlucky,” Larson said. “Anything can happen. But, you have to be ready for the weather.”
Four minutes later, Oregon caught another bad break. SV’s Kaila Joyner kicked a long shot in the general direction of the goal and it bounced off the head of an Oregon defender into the goal for a 2-0 lead.
A header by Georgia Ballard almost made it 3-0, hitting the top of the post. The Cardinals continued to threaten, but Pudlas beat Schabacker to a loose ball with 10 minutes left in the half.
With the Hawk student section chanting, “let’s go Oregon, let’s go”, Katelyn Byerley got loose and advanced the ball to Leah Watters for a shot-on-goal with six minutes left in the half. It missed, but seemed to fire up the team. Byerley had a good try for a score with a minute left before the break, but it missed the mark.
Hannah Donaldson, who scored the game winner in the sectional OT match against Rockford Lutheran, also had some success in the first part of the game moving the ball upfield.
“I thought we flat out won the last 10 minutes,” Larson said. “The first 30, we looked like we gave up and didn’t want to make mistakes.”
Any hopes Oregon had of carrying the momentum into the second half ended as the Cardinals peppered the goal with shots. SV had a 7-1 edge in shots-on-goal in the first 20 minutes of the second half, with Pudlas, who had 15 saves, stopping each attempt.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals continued to substitute freely and began to wear down Oregon.
“We don’t have the depth they do and they outplayed us,” Larson said. “We had some chances, but didn’t capitalize. They had better ball control.”
With the game winding down, Reagan Wiehle scored off a Schabacker assist. Then, Ballard launched a 30-yard goal over the head of Pudlas for the 4-0 final result.
“We’re tired after playing two overtime games,” Larson said.
Stillman won its eighth straight regional and second sectional in three years.
“We knew Oregon was going to be a tough match up. They took a lot of people by surprise this year,” McMaster said.