The Russell County Middle School girls’ soccer team finished off an already historic season with its first-ever conference championship on Tuesday night, defeating Wayne County 2-0.
In only four seasons as a program — one of which consisted of only one match due to COVID-19 — RCMS had never even been to the conference tournament before this season. The Lady Lakers (18-4) clinched their first-ever berth into the conference tournament last week, and to finish off their season with a conference title, they would have to take down a team that had beaten them three times already this season, including in the district final just one week prior.
And that’s just what they did.
Madison Weisbrodt scored the opening goal in the first half to take a 1-0 lead. RCMS had taken a 1-0 lead in the district final loss to Wayne County, and head coach Cheryl Newby wanted to make sure this match wasn’t a repeat.
“I said, ‘Let’s not get overexcited,’ because if you remember the last time (we played Wayne County), we scored within the first 20-25 seconds and didn’t score the rest of the match,” Newby said, “but we got through the first half and it was still scoreless for both teams (after our first goal).”
As the game wore on and neither team could find the back of the net, Newby began thinking about how her team just needed to keep the ball away from the Lady Cardinals.
“We were still on top, so I’m thinking, all we need to do is just hold them off and not let them score,” she said.
But with four minutes left in the match, RCMS’ Adriana Thomas scored the second goal to give the Lady Lakers a little more breathing room.
“At that time, I kind of started thinking, ‘We got this,’” Newby said. “I just kept yelling at our players to hold them off and pay attention. You could see they were wearing down because they played so hard and really good for the entire game, and they made it through it and we came out on top … I’m just very proud of them right now.”
Going into the match, Newby said her team used their practice on Monday to focus on applying more pressure to Wayne County’s strong front line and being more aggressive as a team.
“We worked at practice [Monday] on our back line, working on angles and defending their main attackers and just working together,” said Newby, still beaming after the team’s win. “We came out today, and they showed a difference.”
Part of the game plan was keeping the ball out of Wayne County’s attackers’ possession, which RCMS did consistently throughout the victory.
“The ball was constantly kind of in our control, putting pressure on their defense,” said assistant coach Kirsty Chapman. “I mean, our goalkeeper, Jasmine (Bennett), she maybe touched the ball two, three times the entire match.”
Following the match, Newby and Chapman were both at a loss for words to describe how they were feeling, but after thinking it over for a short time, they both eventually came up with the same adjective: “Amazing.”
“I’m just super proud to be their coach,” Newby said. “It just feels good.”
With a final look back on their incredible season, Chapman pointed to how far the team has come, crediting the players’ coachability and knack for taking what they learned in practice and executing it in the match, as well as their toughness.
“Each game, they would learn more just from working hard in practice and learning what we were talking to them about, explaining to them,” Chapman said. “They would just get it.
“This squad is also just tough. We kept having injuries pop up during the season, but the players, they’ve just kept going,” she added. “They just kept fighting every time. It’s a very, very tough squad we have.”
Following the match, several fans followed the bus after it got off the Cumberland Expressway, honking their horns and cheering loudly out of their vehicles in a parade that went all the way through Jamestown and back to RCMS.
Newby, holding back tears of joy, thanked the community for such a public display of encouragement and celebrating the team’s accomplishment.
“That made me emotional, just to see how much support we had,” Newby said directly after the parade. “I’m still in shock.”