IRMO– Catawba Ridge’s girls soccer team “set the tone” for the young school’s athletic program with a spirited effort Saturday afternoon in the Class 4A state title game.
The Lady Copperheads fell 1-0 to James Island in the state championship game at W.C. Hawkins Stadium on the campus of Irmo High School, but senior defender Paige Bell said her team left all their effort out on the pitch.
“I know every one of them tried their hardest,” Bell said. “I couldn’t be more proud as a captain.”
Junior striker Kayla McGary scored the game’s lone goal for the James Island Trojans, who finished 22-1, in the 58th minute when she collected the ball at the top of the Copperhead’s penalty box, made a quick spin, and hit a hard, low left-footed shot that hit the post and trickled in past Catawba Ridge goalkeeper Shyann Holt.
Catawba Ridge soaked up 80 minutes of dogged pressure from the James Island offense throughout the 80 minutes of play. Holt played especially well between the posts, pulling off multiple one-on-one saves to keep the score close.
The Copperheads had precious few chances on goal, but senior midfielder Maren White came the closest. She found herself in space on the right wing in the 75th minute, burst into the Trojans’ penalty box, and chipped the James Island keeper, but a Trojans defender appeared at the back post to clear the ball off the line.
“I thought it was in,” White said. “I had no idea that the girl was at the back there. I was almost celebrating the goal… I’ll remember this team; it was a great group of girls. I won’t forget it as long as I live.”
Catawba Ridge reached the state title game in just its first full varsity year, surprising the state’s established powers and making a name for itself in the process.
The Copperheads, who ended the season at 15-2, took down Greenville, A.C. Flora and Eastside to win the Upper State title and reach the state title game.
Coach Brandon Schmidt said people would remember this team for what it accomplished, and how it set the foundation for the girls’ soccer program.
“This will set the tone for the future,” he said. “I told them; they were relentless. They poured everything they had in there. I’m so proud of them, they fought for each other.”
James Island came into Saturday’s title game having beaten South Florence, West Florence and Hilton Head in the postseason. The Trojans quickly took control of the game early, peppering Holt with shots from up-close and from long-range.
Senior forward Alarie Hodge hit the crossbar with a 22nd minute lob inside the box. Five minutes later, another James Island attacker hit a header that smacked the crossbar and bounced down before getting cleared away by Catawba Ridge. A large contingent of James Island fans insisted that the ball crossed the line, but the referees determined that the ball was still in play.
Holt made her most audacious stop in the 54th minute when she smothered a dangerous chance from Hodge, who was baring down on her on a one-on-one.
“Wow,” Schmidt said. “I mean, she worked so hard the entire season, showing up to practice early, working on those one-on-ones. I’m so proud of her. As a junior, I’m excited to see what she’ll become next year.”
But there was no stopping McGary’s effort in the 58th minute.
Catawba Ridge did all it could to escape its own half, but the Trojans’ pressure never abated. Sophomore midfielder Taylor Hurteau nearly made it 2-0 in the 61st minute with a header from a corner, but Bell cleared her shot off the Copperheads’ goal line.
Schmidt said he was especially proud of his young defense, which included freshman Sarah Sexton and sophomore Ruby Stayduhar.
“It’s so our motto, ‘be the why,’” Bell said. “We do everything to the best of our ability, and lay it all out on the field. I feel like we lived up to our motto.”
White’s chipped effort in the 75th minute came so close to an equalizer, but the shot was whisked away off the line, and so with-it Catawba Ridge’s chances of pushing the game to overtime.
White said she was proud that everyone fought to the end.
“We made it to the state championship,” she said. “Obviously, we did something right. It’s a blessing.”
Schmidt said his team’s effort sets a high watermark for the rest of Catawba Ridge’s athletic programs.
“It sets the tone for the team,” he said. “For our athletic program, the coaches, who help each other out. Catawba Ridge girls’ soccer is a model for what we want to do at the school.”