The Rolla girls soccer team (12-8, 8-1) traveled down to Kickapoo with the chance to win the Ozark Conference outright on Thursday, May 2. The Lady Bulldogs were in a 2-0 hole at the half, but refused to fold and fought back in the second half. That comeback fell just short, as they couldn't find a second goal in a 2-1 loss.
Kickapoo had the wind on their side in the first half and they took advantage with a few great runs. In the fifth minute the Lady Chiefs rushed the goal with a flurry of shots. Kelly Cates made several saves for the Lady Bulldogs, but eventually a rebound found the back of the net off the foot of Serena Boyce, and Kickapoo had a 1-0 lead. Kickapoo had several strong runs as the half continued, but Cates turned away shot after shot. That 1-0 Lady Chief lead held until the 38th minute when Kickapoo crossed a ball to the left side of the field, setting up a goal by Ellie Miller. That gave Kickapoo a 2-0 lead going into the half.
While Rolla trailed by two goals at the half, they played a hard nosed first half. They refused to let their undefeated run in the conference end because of a two goal deficit. Right off the opening touch, Elsa Wise rushed at the Kickapoo midfield and forced a turnover. Rolla didn't score on the run, but it set the tone that the Lady Bulldogs weren't calling it a night.
Rolla's offense made a turn in the second half, as well. Carlee McCormick was moved up from more of a defensive role to play in the mid-field and she helped facilitate some great looks. She and the Rolla midfielders, which included Ellie Rodgers, Kendall Mara and Kate Mallery, were excellent in the second half. Those midfielders set up a number of great runs for their forwards, but the goals weren't coming for the first 25 minutes. The Lady Bulldogs finally broke through in the 67th minute. Wise was fouled outside of the box, which set up a free kick. She bombed a shot near the goal, but the ball was deflected out toward the right side of the pitch. That's where McCormick was there to clean things up. She put a shot past multiple defenders and the Kickapoo keeper, cutting the Rolla deficit to 2-1.
Rolla had a few more excellent chances on corners in the final 13 minutes, but Kickapoo did just enough to keep the ball out of the net. The Lady Bulldogs kept pushing, but Kickapoo pushed the ball into the Rolla defensive zone with a few minutes left and Rolla couldn't find that last shot. The clock hit zero with Rolla trailing 2-1, but head coach Mike Howard was extremely proud of their effort all night long.
"I'm really proud of our effort, that second half that we played was unbelievable. You're down two goals playing at Kickapoo and we gave them everything they wanted, that's for sure," said the Rolla head coach. "I've probably never been more proud of a group of kids, they played awesome tonight."
One of the biggest difference makers in the game was size. With a lineup that is filled with youth, Rolla is not a big team. In the first half, Kickapoo really used that size to their advantage, but the Lady Bulldogs didn't back down from the physical play.
"We give up a lot in size, we do every game, but they're starting to compete for those 50/50 balls," said coach Howard. "There was no lack of effort. I'm pleased. It's never fun to lose, but now we've just gotta root for Glendale and hopefully they can help us out."
The Ozark Conference loss was just Rolla's third in the last three seasons, as their overall record in the conference during that span sits at 42-3. While they lost, the Lady Bulldog's are still in the hunt for the conference crown. Kickapoo and Glendale will face off on Wednesday, May 9 and if Glendale comes away with a win, all three teams will have an 8-1 record in the conference and share the Ozark Conference title.
Rolla has one more home game left on their schedule, as they host Rock Bridge on Monday, May 7. After that, they'll finish off their regular season schedule with trips to Springfield Central, who will replace Joplin in the Ozark Conference next season, and Osage. Rolla's District seeding has also been announced. They will open Districts, which will be hosted by Union, against Washington on Monday, May 14.