By Thomas Sellers Jr.
A majority of those exiting the Munford Stadium Oct. 20 felt the team who played better saw its 2015 soccer season come to an end.
In the Region 7-3A Soccer Semifinal, the Bartlett Lady Panthers traveled to Tipton County to take on the District 13-3A champion Munford Lady Cougars.
Head Coach Dylan Burnett’s Lady Cougars played like champions with multiple shots on goal, possession of the ball throughout the 80 minutes and stellar play from goalie Courtney Howard. Despite all the positive remarks about Munford’s performance, the Lady Panthers got a goal from Clara Smith with 14 minutes and 54 seconds left in the game to win and advance 1-0.
“They were excellent,” Burnett said of his team. “That was the best game I’ve seen they play all year. It’s unlucky and that’s the way soccer goes sometimes. I’m so proud of these girls. I told them at the beginning of the game, ‘I don’t want to be out here with another group of girls.’ I meant that and still feel that way after the game. We out played Bartlett.”
The Lady Panthers tried to establish tempo early in the contest controlling the possession in the first 15 minutes. Then Lady Cougars like Erin Detter, Destany Bowman, Lyndsie Ralyea and Kasey Moore seized control of the ball from their defensive position.
Munford started to be the aggressor and get several shots on goal.
Two notable attempts made the spectators gasp. One Munford shot appeared to go into but was just outside of the net.
The other close call for the Lady Cougars in the first half came off the foot of Detter hitting the crossbar.
“Again, soccer doesn’t go your way sometimes,” Burnett said. “Literally, we should have won the game. Maddie had a shot to where it rolled, so it’s questionable if it went in the goal or not. Another goal — crossbar, we had numerous opportunities to where it was really, really close.”
The first half ended in a scoreless tie. The play of Howard contributed to that deadlock. The Munford keeper made three athletic saves in a two-minute stretch that brought some in the stands to their feet.
Howard continued to make saves in the second half, but one Bartlett attempt did sneak over the goal line to give the Lady Panthers the leads at 1-0.
“We should have put away our chances,” Burnett said. “If we had put away our chances that goal wouldn’t have mattered. But I told the girls, Coach Louie and I are so proud of these girls. They worked so hard.”
Munford’s hard work made them district champions but it was the Lady Panthers advancing to the Region 7-3A championship game to play the Arlington Lady Tigers. Arlington advanced dominating Dyer County 10-1.
The Lady Cougars’ 2015 season concluded with a 9-9-2 record. Munford was unbeaten in district play outscoring their league opponents 35-1.
Burnett noted the senior leadership of Detter, Erika Lambert and Emily Montgomery helped the Lady Cougars navigate a tough 2015 schedule and win a district title. The Three E’s led by example from the defensive line to the midfield to the striker positions.
“We will miss them,” Burnett said. “They were all starters and key parts to our lineup. They have laid the foundation for what we are building here.”
Burnett first year as the coach of Munford began in the July heat with two-a-day practices. With Assistant Coach Louie Hale by his side, the duo embraced its new team.
From the mind to the body, Burnett said his new team was very coachable and hard working.
“It paid off,” he said. “I honestly don’t think anybody gave us a chance out here today. You looked on paper and said ‘Oh, Munford against Bartlett, Bartlett will play in the Region final.’ If you were out here, you saw a Munford team that should have won.
“Not just hanging with a good Bartlett team which has beaten good teams,” Burnett continued. “You saw a Munford team that played as a good unit and should have won. That’s how it goes sometimes. I’m so proud of these girls.”
With season one in the history book, Burnett said it was hard to write the final chapter in the Region Semifinals.
“They’re a close group of girls,” he said. “I love these girls — I do. I’m not ready to let go of the girls’ season. This is tough for me right now. It’s tough on the girls. They are a close-knit group of girls and they worked their tails off.
“After the game, the head ref told us we should have won,” Burnett concluded. “That’s good because it’ not just coming from my mouth. They hear me encourage them all the time but for other to recognize that says a lot.”