What a comeback!

Lady Loco’s rally to claim second consecutive State Championship in thriller
By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, November 5, 2020
The Lady Loco soccer team jumps for joy after they won their second consecutive Class A State Championship on Saturday. Photos courtesy Kathleen Linger

The Lady Loco soccer team jumps for joy after they won their second consecutive Class A State Championship on Saturday. Photos courtesy Kathleen Linger

Morgan Maack during the Class A State Championship game in Laurel last week. The LHS senior kicked the game–winning goal in overtime.

Morgan Maack during the Class A State Championship game in Laurel last week. The LHS senior kicked the game–winning goal in overtime.

Maeson Cotter collides with a Whitefish player during the Lady Locos’ 3–2 overtime win on Halloween.

Maeson Cotter collides with a Whitefish player during the Lady Locos’ 3–2 overtime win on Halloween.

The Lady Loco soccer team defended their 2019 Class A State Championship and won their third State title in four years on Saturday against Whitefish at Laurel Stadium in dramatic fashion, storming back from an 0–2 deficit to win in overtime 3–2.

The Lady Bulldogs scored first on a direct kick nine minutes into a physical game and Laurel failed to match the goal in the first half.

Coach Aloma Jess said, “At halftime the conversation amongst the players was ‘we’ve been here before, we are controlling much of the play on the field, we can do this.’”

After Whitefish scored on a penalty kick with under 20 minutes left in the second half, Laurel was seemingly on the ropes to defend their State title, or so the Bulldogs thought.

Senior midfielder Allison Shovar said, “Being down 0–2 is a hard deficit to get momentum on, but even though we were down we knew were gonna win.” Senior defender Sierra Branstetter said, “We just needed to get a breath.”

The Lady Locos quickly regrouped two minutes later when senior forward Maeson Cotter scored on a long goal to pull within one. Four minutes later sophomore defender Grace Wagner hit the “miracle” 40–yard goal from across town over the outstretched arms of the Whitefish goalie with 10 minutes left in the game to tie it up 2–2.

“They knew that they had to take the two–goal lead in stride and grind it out and stay calm. We talked about taking shots within our range as often as possible which paid off when Grace’s 40–yard shot helped to breathe new life into the match for the Lady Locomotives,” Coach Jess said.

The final minutes of regulation remained scoreless and the title game went into overtime tied 2–2.

With a minute left in the first overtime, senior Gracey Willis passed to fellow senior and 2021 Rocky Mountain College recruit Morgan Maack who nailed a short goal. The Loco defense held during the second overtime half and they clinched the comeback victory and the Locos’ third Class A State title in four years.

Coach Jess said, “The past three weeks we faced some challenging soccer that definitely prepared us for the challenges of the championship game. As a coach you always hope that your team peaks at the most advantageous time, and they did. I felt that we started playing to our potential when we narrowly defeated Billings Central. Bigfork forced us to adapt during the match and find a way to get past their defensive line and Columbia Falls challenged us physically and mentally. The girls had to shake off an early score on a free kick in Columbia Falls and they showed great maturity in focus and perseverance. This, then, set up the girls for the 2-0 setback versus Whitefish.”

On Tuesday the Outlook met with seven of the eight seniors on the team and asked them to reflect on the game, season and their soccer careers.

Defender Kolby Gibbs said they remained confident throughout the game and trusted their skills and talent. “We’ve only been scored on on set plays all season. We thought the penalty kick was unfair but we didn’t change anything in the second half. We have a deep bench and everyone is good.” Branstetter agreed and said their opponents “never had a breakaway goal” on the season. Shover said, “Even though we were down we knew we were going to win.”

Midfielder Willis said, “we thought the penalty kick was unfair, but we knew it was our half.”

Forward Kadee Grammer said it was a tough game on several fronts but their confidence carried them through. “The refs weren’t on our side and Whitefish was a physical team; it was like a wrestling match.”

Now this senior class has won State Championships in three–of–four years (2017, 2019, 2020) and have a cumulative record of 50–5–3.

They credited their success to years of playing together, good coaching and parental support.

Gibbs said “most of us have been playing together since the second grade,” and Willis added, “The coaching we got as kids prepared us for this.” Branstetter said, “We all started young and were competitive at practice from the start. We wanted to win.” Shovar said, “We connect so well and our parents have been committed and supportive of us all the way. Watching the older kids have success when we were in junior high helped too.”

Coach Jess concluded, “This team has no quit in them and it was maturity and sheer determination that carried them through to victory. I couldn’t be more proud of the team. They deserve this and I think it means more having to fight so hard under extreme pressure.”

On the year, sophomore Mya Maack was 2nd in the state in scoring with 22 goals and three assists. Morgan Maack was T6 with 13 goals and seven assists. Willis was 10th with 11 and four and Cotter was T14 with eight and six.

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