January 26, 2013 11:51:21 PM
The tears reflect how far the New Hope High School girls soccer has come in one year.
Reagan Hern is just disappointed she won't be with the Lady Trojans next season to help them take the next step.
As painful as it was for New Hope to process its season-ending 1-0 loss to Ridgeland in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs, Hern, the team's only senior, could take solace in the fact New Hope (17-5-1) erased the memory of a 10-0 loss to Ridgeland in the identical position last season.
"The difference (from last season's loss) was it was heartbreaking because we were so close," Hern said. "We have never been this close. It was a great way to end my last game. I would have loved to have won, but to come out here and go from 10-0 to 1-0 was a huge difference. It just sucks because it is my last game with them."
Last season, Hern was upset because the home loss ended the high school career of her sister, Sarah, who recently completed her freshman season at Itawamba Community College, and the rest of the seniors. On Saturday, all of the Lady Trojans were emotional because the defeat marked the last time they would play with the other Hern.
New Hope could take satisfaction from the fact it allowed a quality goal. Mary Ashton Lembo started the scoring play by stepping over the ball and going back to her right. Her lead pass found Rhae'Ven Ellis, who carried the ball to the corner and crossed it to the back post. Tracie Hobbs tried to re-direct the ball past goalkeeper McKenzie Harvey, but she didn't get a lot on it. Still, the ball bounded to the right, where Hanna Harris crashed the near post and tucked it home with a little less than 30 minutes remaining in the match.
"We keep reiterating to the girls to follow the shots and to keep crashing the goal," Ridgeland coach Jonathan Branch said. "We knew if we kept playing intense and kept crashing the goal that we were going to get our chances. After the ricochet, we were just in the right spot. You couldn't have drawn it up any better."
The loss marked the fourth-straight year Ridgeland (13-2-6) ended New Hope's season. Many of the Lady Trojans were seventh-graders for the first loss, a 6-0 decision in the first round. In 2011, New Hope hung tough before falling 4-2. Last season, the Lady Trojans had a match to forget. This time, New Hope coach Mary Nagy is confident the memory of the latest defeat will stay with her players through the offseason and motivate them to make history next season and get to the North State championship game.
"It was the best game ever," Nagy said. "There are a lot of tears because we are losing our only senior, who has been their leader, their role model, their cheerleaders, supporter, everything. I can't say enough about Reagan. I think the tears are more for her than the loss because I told the girls I don't think Ridgeland knew what was coming their way."
New Hope stayed organized defensively, pushed forward, strung passes together, and played with infinitely more confidence than it did last season when Ridgeland's blitz was too much to handle. Still, New Hope managed its only two shots of the match in the first half. Ashley Martian took a pass from Pernille Slettestoel and didn't get a lot behind the Lady Trojans' first shot with 17 minutes, 55 seconds left in the half. Effie Morrison's high pop of a shot was the only other action for goalkeeper Jessica Milner.
New Hope's best offensive burst came at the end of the half when Slettestoel teamed with Martian on a quick transition that moved the ball from the left to the right, where Farris Bradley tried to make a run on the flank. The connection was one of the few times the Lady Trojans were able to work free or away from sweeper Olivia Travis and Ellis, a defensive midfielder. Lembo, Ellis, and Travis will play soccer next season at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
"We just fell short on the offensive side," Nagy said. "We couldn't get through No. 23, their middle defender. She is an awesome player, and controlled the defensive line in the back. The couple of breakthroughs we did get,she was able to shield very well and let the goalkeeper get the ball."
Branch felt his team was a Little "lazy" in the first half. He was more pleased with his team's energy level and the defenders' willingness to take space and create scoring runs. Despite the 9-0 edge in shots (17-2 overall), Branch credited New Hope because it never allowed him to feel comfortable.
"We got a lot better breaks than they did. I was scared the whole time," said Branch, who is in his first season as head coach. "They have an unbelievable team. I don't understand how our team defeated that team 1-0 last year. They are a solid squad. I kept looking the whole first half to try to figure out where can we attack and where are the chinks in their armor. They are just solid everywhere."
Nagy said the team addressed the progress from the first playoff loss to Ridgeland to Saturday. She said as painful as it was to say goodbye to Hern, the loss highlighted where the program stands and where it is going.
"It sets a good precedent for our future," Nagy said. "Emotional? Yes, but pretty giddy about the future of the soccer program. I told you one day it will be our day, and we thought today was it. At halftime, we knew holding the game to 0-0 was strong enough to let us know we were still in it. Even at 1-0 we still believed and thought we could pull through, and we never quit."
Hern said the emotion associated with the loss comes from the bond that the Lady Trojans have with each other. Even though the team remains a young squad with 11 sophomores and its share of freshmen and middle schoolers, Hern said New Hope realized the opportunity and tried its best to make the most of it.
"Mentally, we prepared ourselves a lot better," Hern said. "We focused. We went into every game ready to win, but we put forth effort for all of these wins because we wanted to get to the playoffs and we wanted to see Ridgeland again. We just wanted to show them that the team they played last year wasn't the same team they played this year."
Hern has signed a scholarship to play at ICC, so she knows college soccer is in her future. The drive to Fulton is only a little more than an hour, so Hern and her sister, who was filming the game for the Lady Trojans, are bound to be back in Columbus or in Ridgeland next season if and when the teams meet again. When that happens, Reagan wants to be there to share the experience of that elusive victory.
"I can't wait to see the girls play Ridgeland next year," Hern said. "It really sucks that I won't be out there with them, but if they can go into it the same way we did this year,there is no doubt they will win the game. I wish this year would have been the year we beat Ridgeland because we really did believe it was. We thought it was our year, but next year they definitely got them, and I will be back to watch them."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.