ROCK SPRINGS — Tuesday night’s final practice of the season for the Rock Springs Lady Tigers carried a spirit of teamwork, focus and intensity. For the number one seeded Lady Tigers, all three will be needed this weekend in the 4A State Tournament in Jackson.
Three wins will be sufficient to hoist the state title and return home champions. But before the Lady Tigers load the bus for state play, the team reflected on the season and the game plan going into the most important weekend in high school soccer.
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A Moment of Reflection
While the Lady Tigers await to take their talents to Jackson and compete for the 4A state title, there is no doubt that the closely knit group has achieved much this season. From only allowing two goals in the entire regular season to winning the fourth straight 4A West Regional title, Rock Springs has had quite a historic season.
Rylee Berry, who serves as a keystone to the defense, summed up the season in a simple yet truthful statement: “I really like our chemistry and how we work out on the field,” Berry said. “We make it look pretty.”
“Pretty” is a humble way to put it. Rocks Springs has put on an electrifying season with exceptional ball movement, scoring and incredible defense that has left opponents frustrated and defeated.
Head Coach Stephen Pyer made similar comments on the season that has earned the Tigers the first seed in the West. “I feel pride in it,” Pyer said. “The season to me was expected but at the same time it was still a wow factor for me. We did do what we were supposed to do.”
From the outside, the Lady Tigers’ perfect record may indicate a flawless season with no bumps in the road. However, all four team captains collectively felt that the biggest challenge for the team this season has been “keeping a level head” and “meeting expectations.”
Echoed by her teammates, leading scorer, Alyssa Bedard said, “One of our biggest challenges is keeping a level head and knowing that there is something that we can always improve on. Keeping a level head and knowing that we are not perfect, like our perfect record shows, is something that we needed to focus on this season.”
Hard work in the offseason paid off for Pyer and his group throughout the regular season and regionals. Pyer, who has had a successful run with the program, said that this year’s group stands out from his previous teams in terms of technical ability and talent.
“The huge difference is the technical ability,” Pyer said. “It’s just far better than what we’ve ever been. It’s because of the offseason and it shows. Another big difference is that we have sixteen girls that can compete at the varsity level.”
Success at the varsity level is earned, not given. That theory applies to the postseason, especially at the state tournament. With a plethora of accomplishments in the rearview mirror, the Lady Tigers will now face their greatest challenge this weekend: overcoming the Eastern teams and completing the perfect season.
The Game Plan for State
Last year the Lady Tigers took an unexpected early exit from the state tournament in a 4-1 loss to Campbell County. The loss serves as a reminder and motivation as the team heads to Jackson for Thursday’s opening round against Cheyenne East.
“They are tired of getting beat at state so they are really focused,” Pyer said.
Senior Kia Comstock mentioned that, “Playing our game and letting our game do the talking,” will be a major part of the Lady Tigers gameplan for the state tournament.
In addition to playing their game, Bedard added that the team needs to focus on coming out strong in the first half.
“That has been our downfall in the past two seasons,” Bedard said. “It has taken us the first half to build up to the high level that we should’ve started our game at. If something does go wrong, we need to forget it happened and compensate for the mistake that happened and play at a higher level.”
Rock Springs will take on the fourth seeded Cheyenne East Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds have a solid striker in Sydney Miller who netted 15 goals in the regular season. Defensively, East has only given up 13 goals this season, but Pyer believes that his team has the ability to overwhelm the Thunderbirds on Thursday morning.
“Our main goal is to shut [Miller] down,” Pyer said. “If we don’t get a goal scored on us then we don’t lose. Their defense is solid but our possession, our midfield, our numbers in the attack are greater than what they can handle hopefully, and then we shut down their counter attacks.”
Cheyenne East will pose as one of the three victories that stand between Rock Springs and the 4A state title. Regardless of the outcome, Pyer’s wish is to prove to the state that the Lady Tigers are a competitive, fierce team.
“We want to prove that we are among the best in the state. Even if we don’t win it all, we want to leave the opponents saying, “we got lucky to beat them.” That’s what I want out of it, if not three wins, then at least respect,” Pyer said.
For team captain Liliana Hernandez, the belief is integrated already in her short and sweet statement: “We have a really good chance at state this weekend.”
Kickoff between the Lady Tigers and Cheyenne East is scheduled for Thursday morning at 9 a.m. in Jackson.