By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
They may not get much offseason practice time together, but New Covenant Academy has figured out what goes into a successful soccer program.
“(Our roster) has basketball players, volleyball players, swimmers, cheerleaders… but we’ve all come together as one unit,” said NCA coach Eric Crain. “We took what we had and made it into a team.”
New Covenant Academy, which launched its girls’ soccer program five years ago, defeated Mountain View-Birch Tree/Liberty 1-0 Thursday in the Class 1 District 6 tournament title game. Freshman Anna Crain scored the game-winner in the 51st minute off a feed from Alicia Batten.
It’s the first district title in program history for NCA.
“I’ve been with New Covenant since middle school, so just being in this moment in my last year… it’s just a tremendous honor,” said senior co-captain Madeline Michaeliszyn, the only four-year player on NCA’s roster.
New Covenant Academy (12-7 overall) travels to Crocker (13-5-1 overall) on May 22 for a Class 1 quarterfinals matchup.
It’s unprecedented territory for NCA, which lost in its district semifinals the past two seasons. NCA beat McAuley Catholic 2-0 in Tuesday’s semifinals.
“It means so much to be here,” said Lady Warriors goalkeeper Hannah Isbell, who had seven saves and recorded her sixth shutout of the season. “I know when we won Tuesday (in the semifinals), we were just so thankful.
“Coach (Crain) has always told us that God’s had a plan for this program and He’s been building it up. I honestly believed He allowed us to get here and all the glory goes to Him.”
Anna Crain had two other scoring opportunities before her game-winning goal.
In the 47th minute, she had a goal waved off due to an offside call. Three minutes later, the freshman midfielder shook a Liberty defender to gain space and delivered a shot on frame.
Anna Crain, who has 16 goals on the season, is part of a freshmen class that’s given NCA a talent boost this spring.
“I knew the future players we had coming in,” Michaeliszyn said. “We have a strong freshman class, so I figured with what we had coming back, we’d be better. More experience equals more wins. It was a process we had to get through.”
Said Eric Crain: “Knowing what we were gaining and knowing what we were returning, we knew something could be special with our team this year.”
Liberty, the two-time defending district champion, had scoring opportunities throughout the match.
Lady Eagles senior Amanda Mantel hit the crossbar on a shot in the 20th minute. The ensuing rebound came to another Liberty player on the far side, but her shot hit the post.
NCA withstood a barrage of Liberty shots in the final 15 minutes. Isbell made a save in the 79th minute, and the Lady Warriors (15-6-1 overall) cleared a Liberty corner kick in the 80th minute.
“That final 15 minutes felt like an hour,” Isbell said.
In a regular season matchup on April 2, NCA beat Liberty 7-3 at home.
“Everything lined up perfectly for us that game,” Eric Crain said. “I was scared playing them again, honestly, because I knew it wouldn’t be the same game.”