This entire season, Taige Webster has pleaded with Maize girls soccer coach Jay Holmes to play her at forward instead of outside back.
When her chance came — in the second half of Thursday’s Class 5A regional championship game at Eisenhower — Webster was prepared.
The sophomore used her speed to win a foot race and chase down a through ball. She then had the composure to take a touch outside of the charging keeper and slot away the title-clinching goal in Maize’s 3-1 victory over Eisenhower. With the win, the Eagles (14-3-1) advance to Tuesday’s 5A quarterfinals and will play at Bishop Carroll (17-1).
“I had a rush through my heart and I heard my coaches yelling at me, so I couldn’t stop there, I had to finish,” Webster said. “I was so excited because it was the first time I’ve played up front all season. Now maybe I’ll get to go up front again.”
Webster, with her pace, was exactly what Holmes was looking for in Thursday’s windy conditions. Holmes figured Eisenhower, trailing 2-1 at halftime, would push numbers forward with the wind at its backs for the second half. If Maize had the speed to counter, it could maybe steal a goal.
Sure enough, an Eisenhower corner kick was cleared in the 65th minute and that left the Tigers’ back line exposed. With one well-placed through ball by Mina Chapman over the top of the defense, Webster chased down the ball to score the goal Eisenhower coach Brandon Sommer was afraid was brewing.
“When you get the wind at your back and you’re trailing, you have the tendency to knock the ball forward and then the wind carries it,” Sommer said. “We talked at halftime about finding feet and looking for combinations, but Maize just out-played us. They read our combinations and got in the way and they countered us.”
Playing against the wind actually suited Maize’s possession-based game better. Maize’s midfield trio of Cammie Davis, Kaylee Wilcox and Nayeli Reveles were able to boss the game with their combinations and constantly won possession for Maize in the middle of the field. When Eisenhower did make a threat, Maize senior centerback Cheyenne Busker bottled it up.
“We could really start playing our game when we were against the wind,” Davis said. “When we were playing with the wind, it was just long balls that rolled out. In the second half, we were able to play our possession game more and that worked.”
Maize struck within the game’s first six minutes when Davis won a 50-50 ball in the midfield and laid off a pass for Mallory Stegman, who lined up a 25-yard shot and slotted it past the keeper for a 1-0 lead.
But Eisenhower received a significant boost when it equalized going into the wind, as sophomore Emma Franklin won a foot race and re-directed the ball around the charging goalkeeper to tie the game 1-1 in the 14th minute.
Minutes later, Eisenhower nearly took the lead when an in-the-box blast from Emma Scholl hit off the crossbar. Instead, it was Maize that took the 2-1 lead when senior Marissa Llamas scored on a 25-yard strike with the wind in the 26th minute.
If Scholl’s strike dips a couple inches lower and goes in, the outcome might have been different for Eisenhower. Instead, Sommer is more than happy to take the positives from a 14-3-1 season where he started nine different freshmen and won the AV-CTL Division II championship.
“This season has been an incredible accomplishment for a team that starts six freshmen, four sophomores and a. junior,” Sommer said. “That freshmen class is amazing and our sophomore class is amazing. We’re just going to continue to grow from this. It stunk that today we got the loss, but our girls can learn from this and it inspires me to try to find ways to help them find what they need to do to win this next year.”