MOUNT CARMEL -- Conditions were less than ideal, emotions were high and Mount Carmel students and parents were all gathered to send off a group of pioneers who made a dream into a reality.
It was Senior Night for the girls soccer team, in its second season as a program. Several of the seniors, including Sophie Berberich and Ally Kendall, were instrumental in the founding of the program, setting the stage and opportunity for girls to come. Now, the girls were seeking for a magical ending, winning their final home game at Wabash Valley College's soccer field and their first of the season.
They overcame the swampy like conditions -- which head coach Ed Berberich had admitted the game probably wouldn't have happened had it not been Senior Night -- and played tough for all 80 minutes. They fell just inches short, however, falling 2-1 to Pinckneyville on a late goal by the Panthers to down the Lady Aces on Friday night.
The Panthers opened as the aggressor out of the gate and reaped the benefits of it. As they controlled the possession early on, they attacked Mount Carmel goalie Allison Thread with reckless abandonment, seeking to get on the board. They did just that in the 14th minute, scoring on a goal after the Lady Ace defenders couldn't clear the ball.
It wasn't an easy day to be a defender -- or a striker for that matter. With the muddy, swampy field, many players from both teams were slipping and whiffing on balls on countless occasions.
Needing to draw even, Mount Carmel got a break opportunity on a lead feed by Maya Smith up ahead to Rylie Webb. Webb broke free from the Panther defenders for a 1-on-1 with the Pinckneyville goalie and took advantage, booting it in to the back of the net and tying the game at 1-1.
Webb's goal drastically changed the flow of the game, as Mount Carmel's energy was vastly improved and they began to enforce their own will on Pinckneyville.
"We definitely came out with some energy tonight," Berberich said. "Sometimes it's a little up and down, partly due to fatigue. We had a little bit of a break here so that helped us. I was happy with how they played, I just want to see us get more aggressive with our off ball runs and stuff. We're watching some players dribble with the ball and instead of making runs out ahead of them. Just working on that attacking mentality on offense. Defensively I think we did a pretty good job of attacking the ball better in this game. There's still a few times where we lay off and back off, but in large through what we've seen in the year, they tried to jump on some passes tonight, intercept some passes and things like that. It's a thing, it'll take some time."
Mount Carmel escaped a pair of late shots from Pinckneyville, either of which could have went in, but instead the teams entered the break knotted at 1-1.
At the break the Mount Carmel seniors marched toward the opposite end of the field, meeting their family near the concession stand before posing for pictures and handing their parents a flower. It was an emotional scene for the nine seniors, Sophie Berberich, Kendall, Taylor Noirfalise, Teagan Guard, Ali Ross, Carli Morris, Maddy Hodge, Tristyn Wyatt, Bryce Peacock and their parents, who battled through the swamp. The muddy conditions did its own job of lightening the mood and adding a comedic effect as the parents tried to navigate through the mud to meet their daughters.
Upon the conclusion of the festivities, Mount Carmel came back out and had their minds set on their first win of the season. Their bench was active, cheering on their teammates, and the crowd on hand was rooting the Lady Aces toward victory.
In the first few minutes of the half Mount Carmel had some break opportunities, but they were booted just a tad too far and ended at the hands of the Pinckneyville goalie as a result.
A near disaster came in the 49th minute as the Panthers earned a penalty kick after the referees deemed a Mount Carmel player fouled a Panther in the box. The Pinckneyville striker readied for the opportunity against Thread and missed by inches, striking the PK off the right side bar -- a massive breathe of fresh air for the Lady Aces and those who were cheering them on.
Webb and a Panther defender evidently were tangled up in the 55th minute and each received a yellow card as a result of the brief entanglement. Webb would briefly exit, only to reenter about three minutes later.
A sequence the Lady Aces wish they could have back came in the 61st minute, which ultimately flipped the script as to who was going to win the game. Mount Carmel threatened to score on a few trips in the minute and earned a pair of corner kicks as a result. The first one was knocked out off Pinckneyville on the entering feed, forcing Webb to boot another. Her second entry fell way short, as she was kicking out of the worst part of the entire field, condition wise at least. Webb's surroundings were entirely puddles and mud. The Panthers seized control of the second entry and turned it into a break opportunity. The Lady Aces didn't get back to defend the straight line attack and paid dearly. Pinckneyville took advantage, getting a 1-on-1 with Thread and scoring to break the tie.
"That's actually the worst corner of the field right there," Berberich recalled where Webb kicked from. "If there's standing water anywhere, it's right there and it wasn't the only spot that had it tonight."
"It was pretty late," Berberich said. "We kind of struggled on the counters a lot this year. We've given up many goals in the corner where we're looking pretty good but then an errant pass or bad reception, or really in this case the corner kicker should have gotten to that ball and she wasn't coming out hard enough. She sent it in and just kind of watched it. It's little plays like that, that's way down here. If we get to that ball, that's not a goal. The counters have kind of hurt us and they were kind of fast up the wings, where we weren't as fast up the wings in the back and worked out on that counter there. They played hard, we just have a lot of stuff to work on."
The Lady Aces had a couple desperation chances in the winding minutes of the game, but nothing found its way into the back of the net as they fell 2-1 on Senior Night.
For the game Pinckneyville shot the ball nine times in contrast to Mount Carmel's seven. Webb had the lone Lady Aces goal on an assist by Smith, and Thread had a strong day at goalie for the Lady Aces, saving the ball five times.
It was a disappointing end to the regular season for the group but especially the seniors, though they have nothing to hang their heads about. The Lady Aces (0-9-2) could've easily won six games this year as Berberich explained. He does feel the program's taken a significant step forward in year two, but he wishes they could've pulled out a win for the seniors during the season.
"We have a great group of seniors, especially because not all of them play a lot," Berberich spoke of the seniors. "They've stayed engaged and involved the whole year, rooted their teammates on. It'd be pretty easy for a senior to come in and have that attitude, why is a sophomore or freshman playing over me. They haven't been like that, they've just wanted to be a part of it and done whatever they can to help. Honestly it is huge, nobody wants to sit on the bench and not play a lot, but a loud bench helps a lot. Even there you're playing a role. I'm sure there's some that are disappointed and sometimes I'm disappointed with how I disperse minutes after the game, but I'm sure some are disappointed but are still cheering on their teammates. That's heartening to see."
"I've never had a season that was no snakebitten," Berberich said. "[The] kids were playing hard, I've been in a bunch of close games, but never quite this many in one season. That's kind of disappointing so far for the girls. I think they're having fun anyway, but I know they'd like to win a game. We still have a chance."
That chance will come on Monday when the ladies travel to play Salem (1-12-4) in the IHSA Regional. The game was supposed to be on Saturday, but the IHSA gave the two teams the OK to move the game to Monday at 4:30 p.m. The Lady Aces faced the Wildcats twice previously, tying them 1-1 in the first meeting and falling 2-nil in the second meeting. It's a game they'll have a chance at, but they'll have to be ready to play.
"I feel like we should've beat them the first game and really the second game too even though we didn't score," Berberich said. "We gave them both goals they scored, we literally had an assist on the first goal, we passed it right to them in front of the goal when we had control of the ball, gave them an assist there. The second goal hit the goalie in the hands and bounced in, had some bad luck there. It's a team we can beat, although if we don't play well they'll beat us because they beat us once and tied us once."