Madison County’s girls’ soccer team made some school history April 22, going on the road and winning the program’s first-ever state playoff match.
The Red Raiders downed Luella 4-2 and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the Class AAAA state tournament, where they will meet Heritage Catoosa on the road at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s definitely exciting to make that milestone and make that next step for our program and hopefully keep running with it,” said head coach Lee Reno.
Freshman star player Emma Chason led the Red Raiders with three more goals, setting the new MCHS girls’ single-season record for goals scored at 27, eclipsing Parker Minish’s mark. Minish, who still holds the career mark at 46, attended the game and had her picture made with Chason after the match.
“It was a nice moment,” said Reno. “Parker was involved with our team this season and she made the ride down there. At the end of the game, she got a picture with Emma, which was a nice gesture.”
The Red Raiders fell behind 1-0 early against Luella, but Madison County didn’t get down. Reno said he brought in alumni as guest speakers prior to the state matchup and he felt the encouragement helped the team not hang their heads after falling behind.
Chason responded with two goals in the first half to give the Red Raiders a 2-1 edge at intermission.
“We talked to them at the half about this will be a hard half,” said Reno. “The other team obviously wants to win a playoff game. And for us, we had never won a playoff game. We ended up coming out and playing pretty well.”
Luella scored with about 17 minute to go to knot the score at 2. Shortly after, Chason, who was drawing attention from defenders, found Lindley Hawks with a pass and Hawks fended off defenders to score and put Madison County up 3-2. Chason then added another goal with about eight minutes to go to put the Red Raiders up 4-2.
Reno said that goalkeeper Josie Johnson was outstanding in the victory, adding that the first goal against Madison County was a defense error and not Johnson’s fault.
“Josie played the best game I have ever seen her play,” he said. “She ended up having 25 saves in that game, a couple from point-blank range, one-on-one versus the keeper. She stopped pretty much everything in her path that night.”
The coach said he encouraged his team prior to the match to realize that the state game wasn’t really much different than the others.
“I try to reinforce with the girls, you’ve done this before,” he said. “You’ve done these passes probably a million times. You’re ready. There’s nothing new. Just play the game. And going into the first playoff game, that was the mindset. Yeah, it’s a little different pressure, but ultimately it’s just a game. Just stay focused and play like you have the other games.”
He said getting the win is a big confidence boost.
“Having that win in the first playoff game reinforces us being able to go into the second round,” he said. “We were looking for a playoff win, and you’ve got that under your belt. And you can keep that same focus of what you did in the first playoff game.”
Reno said he saw a little bit of film of Heritage Catoosa in action.
“They definitely like to play down the middle, and then we they get close, they’re going to play the ball out wide and use their width,” he said, adding the narrow, grass field will be different for Madison County, which is used to playing on turf.