By SCOTT W. COLEMAN, Four Points News
The Vandegrift girls soccer team last weekend won the Austin area’s first-ever UIL girls soccer championship in a 1-0 victory over Wylie East at Georgetown’s Birkelbach Field. It was the first team athletic title for Vandegrift and the second for a Leander ISD school. Cedar Park’s football team won the Class 4A football state title in 2012.
Junior midfielder Kyndal Howard scored the lone goal in Saturday’s championship game on a header with 2:30 remaining in regulation. Howard also scored the game-winning penalty kick in Friday afternoon’s 2-1 shootout (5-3 penalty kicks) semifinal victory over Northwest Nelson.
Howard was named the championship game’s MVP. On Sunday, the UIL announced that Howard, along with senior goalkeeper Mariah Lechner, sophomore Cassidy Cavanaugh and freshman Kelly Flynn had been named to the Class 4A Girls UIL Soccer State All-Tournament Team.
Both Friday afternoon’s semifinal win over Northwest Nelson and Saturday’s title game victory looked a lot like Vandegrift’s other postseason wins. The Lady Vipers won a shootout over Cedar Park in the regional quarterfinal, and went into overtime to defeat Rouse in the regional title game.
“That’s the kind of thing that shows the strength of girls soccer in this area,” said LISD athletic director Chris Ross on Saturday. “And it’s only going to get better.”
Semifinal game, Fri.
On Friday, the Lady Vipers didn’t even get a clear shot on goal until Savannah Cavanaugh broke free and sent a shot careening toward the net in the final two minutes of the first half, but Nelson’s sophomore keeper Tatum Hightower made the save and the teams went into the locker room tied 0-0 at the break.
Howard took a shot early in the second half, followed by another Vandegrift attempt minutes later. Neither got past Hightower.
Then, 5:33 into the second half, Nelson freshman Alexis Smith sent a ball past Lechner’s outstretched arms, hitting the front upright and bouncing back onto the field of play. Despite Lechner’s protests, officials declared a goal, giving Nelson a 1-0 lead.
The Lady Vipers kept the pressure on for the entire second half. However, it was junior defender Paige Welch who made, perhaps, the play of the season for Vandegrift. Just past the 14 minute mark, Lechner came out toward the edge of the box in an attempt to grab the ball and stop Nelson’s attack. However, two Lady Bobcats volleyed the ball past Lechner and with the net unprotected, Welch made a sensational save, getting her foot in front of the ball and deflecting it just before it crossed the line.
Watching the empty net, Vandegrift coach Jen Hardy said, “I just thought… Oh God. But (Paige’s save) was amazing.”
Neither team could score again in regulation, sending the game into overtime. Lechner made a stop with 2:35 left in the first half of OT, and in the second half, the crossbar above Lechner would play a key role, as a shot hit the crossbar and caromed off and away. The teams finished the 20 minute overtime period without scoring, forcing a shootout.
The first three penalty kickers for both squads hit their marks before Lechner dove to her left and made the lone stop of the shootout against Nelson’s Allie Rivers.
“I saw her, and thought I knew where she was going (with the kick),” said Lechner. “I thought, oh my God, if I stop this, we’ve won. And then I just decided what side she was going to, and it was so routine… it just happened. I screamed. I never do that.”
Howard was the fifth Lady Viper penalty kicker and nailed her shot for the win, sending Vandegrift to the title game.
State title game, Sat.
On Saturday afternoon, Vandegrift’s defense was forced to step up again, as the Lady Raiders from Wylie East poured on the pressure the entire first half. Again, Vandegrift didn’t get many clear shots early, and Hardy said at the break that she talked to the team about being more aggressive in the second half.
Though that aggressiveness kept Wylie East keeper Brooke-Lynn Scroggins busy, the Lady Raiders also tested Lechner throughout the second half, and the goalie also got a little more help from the crossbar, which deflected a high shot with 21 minutes left to play.
With time winding down and the match appeared headed for overtime yet again, Vandegrift’s Megan Welliver drove down the right side of the field and was able to get the ball in front of the net, where Howard punched it in with a header with 2:30 on the clock, giving Vandegrift a 1-0 lead.
“I had a couple of yards lead on my defender,” said Howard. “I just kept going forward. I felt like, if anything, there would be a cross and opportunity for a header or a volley or something to get it in. I just kept focus on the ball and when it came my way, it hit my head and went in.”
Though the Lady Raiders would make a couple of attempts to move into position within the final two minutes, Emily McShane cleared the ball with a 40-plus yard kick across midfield and the Lady Viper defense held on for the win.
“We’ve been pushed to the very last second (all season),” Hardy said. “No matter what the score, no matter what, we just keep going.”
Vandegrift finishes the season at 19-3-2, and will return several key players from this year’s team when next season begins.
“If anything, this win will give us something more to work for. Now we have something to defend,” said Welch.