The Mississippi College women’s soccer team hosted West Alabama in the GSC Soccer Spring Championship Series semifinals on March 28. A spot in the GSC championship match was on the line. After a frantic, intense, and back and forth match, the Lady Choctaws came out on top 2-1.
Things got started early, as West Alabama drew a penalty kick in the third minute, but MC goalkeeper Sara Maleski saved the penalty, and also saved the rebound shot. Both teams went back and forth the rest of the first half, and it looked as if each team would coast into halftime, but with under a minute left in the first half Beatrice Currie looped the ball into the box, and Erin Hederman headed it into the net before West Alabama’s keeper could get to it to put MC up 1-0 heading into the break.
MC controlled the beginning of the second half, and really put their stamp on the game in the 59th minute. Erin Hederman got the ball in the middle of the field, spun around two defenders, and swung the ball over to Lexi Pund. Pund then found Avery Hederman who was being fouled as she received the ball. She fought through the contact and found Lindsey Stephenson up the right flank as the ref called advantage for MC. Stephenson then put a cross into the box which found the foot of a trailing Erin Hederman who put the ball in the back of the net to put MC up 2-0 with just 30 minutes left in the match.
On the second goal, Erin Hederman believes MC’s strength on the field was the difference maker, saying, “That’s the thing about just being physically stronger than the other team. We wouldn’t have had that opportunity if we hadn’t been stronger on the field. Because of that it led up to us having the ball in the attack. And because of that, we were able to get a goal. Even after playing through fouls.”
Both teams jockeyed back and forth over the next 20 minutes or so, but then West Alabama drew another penalty kick in the 81st minute. Maleski once again saved the penalty kick, but MC was unable to clear the rebound out of the box, and West Alabama put it in the net to cut MC’s lead to 2-1. The final 10 minutes of the match were as intense as possible, but the Lady Choctaws were able to hold onto the lead and clinch their spot in the GSC championship match.
Arguably the key to the match for MC was the play of Maleski in goal. She saved the two penalty kicks, plus several other crucial saves. On saving the penalties, she says, “It’s really just paying attention, you gotta do what you gotta do for the team. I’ve always been told the pressure is on them [the penalty kick taker], so if you make a save, it’s a good thing, but it’s not necessarily expected. Honestly just a clear head, and you gotta do it for the team.”
On her performance, MC head coach Darryl Longabaugh says, “Sara’s the bomb. She did awesome. Picked it out both times. Made great saves. Had we gotten that last one defensively cleared out right afterward, it would’ve been a clean sheet for her, and she would have deserved it 100%, she was fantastic today.”
Maleski believes that the entire team came in with the same mindset: “The atmosphere today, everybody bought it from the minute we stepped in the locker room, we knew what we had to do. It was going to be a competitive game from the start. I just came in with the mindset that I have to be able to step it up today.”
Hederman also added, “Going into this game, we were just ‘team before everything else.’ Just as Sara made saves tonight, the defenders did their jobs, the midfield did their job, the forwards did their job, and that’s why we got the result that we did.”
On what was the difference in the game, both Hederman and Longabaugh point to the same thing. Hederman said, “We had to be more aggressive. We couldn’t get pushed off the ball or else they would be on the attack. Coach always tells us we have to be stronger in the air, stronger on the ground. We have to get the ball down on the ground and play. Because of that, we were able to get the result that we needed.”
Longabaugh added, “I just told them, we have to get the ball down and we have to play. I told them earlier today that as we move the ball more, the more they have to run. The more they have to run, the more frustrated they get. The more frustrated they get, it gets kinda chippy sometimes. That’s the way it is. I thought the girls handled it remarkably well. I think we fouled a few too many times, but it was an emotional game. Completely emotional.”
MC will now head into the GSC championship against Lee University on April 3 in Huntsville, Alabama. Even with a shortened and conference-only season, Longabaugh still feels the GSC championship match is a massive game: “It still means a lot. It’s a spring season, we didn’t play everybody, but it’s still an honor to be back in it and still playing. That’s the best part: we’re still playing games. I don’t care who we face, we could face North Carolina, and I’d be eager to get in the game and play. I think the girls have earned it, they’ve played hard, they’ve come from behind. Today, we were ahead, and it was great. It’s a great feeling being ahead. This season, with all the COVID, it’s been a hard time, but the girls have done a fantastic job dealing with it and staying healthy. I’m excited and eager to get going next weekend.”
Erin= “It really is unbelievable that we have a chance to still compete for a title, even though we’ve had a long year with Covid. It seems like we’ve been practicing like crazy, but this is what it’s all about. We’re very thankful about getting the opportunity to play for the GSC title”
Sara= “The atmosphere today, everybody brought it from the minute we stepped in the locker room, we knew what we had to do. It was going to be a competitive game from the start. I just came in with the mindset that I have to be able to step it up today”
“It’s just another game. We have an expectation. We’re a high level, competitive team. Everybody wants to be on the top, wants to stay on the top. Last year we finished at the top too, we “
Longabaugh= “I think, the final ten minutes, got tougher and tougher as we went. The momentum had gotten back into their favor. We were making a couple of little mistakes of not holding the ball better. We were playing the all into places. It seemed like that final 10 minutes went on for 20 minutes. The girls calmed down, they made the plays when they had to make them. Right there towards the end, we gave up a couple of free kicks, Lexi B came in big with a header and got the ball out. The girls really fought hard right at the last 10 minutes. They really dug deeper in the final 10 minutes than I thought they did in the first 10 minutes.”