By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
BRANSON – Anytime the Kickapoo and Ozark girls’ soccer teams face off – especially, in a district championship game – you know it’s going to be a battle.
And, Thursday night’s Class 4 District 9 title game was no different.
With 3:50 remaining in regulation, Kickapoo junior Jalyn McClean found the back of the net to give the Lady Chiefs their third-straight district title with a 1-0 win over the Lady Tigers.
McClean gathered in the ball around the 30-yard line, got past one defender, then split two more to break free for a one-on-one opportunity on the left side of the goal. She fired a left-footed shot across the goal, past the Ozark keeper and into the lower-right corner of the goal.
Heading toward the goal, all McClean could hear was Coach Phil Hodge’s words at halftime.
“Hodge saying, ‘be selfish,’ was going through my head,” said McClean, who has 21 goals on the season. “I’m selfish as a player, but I look up and see where everyone else is, to see if there is a better opportunity. I saw there was no one, and I was just going to try and push my luck and it worked. I just saw back post because yesterday, we practiced on opening our hips, and that really helped me.”
Both teams battled in the first half, with Ozark controlling the ball early, but neither team was able to finish the opportunities they did get.
“We just needed to settle down,” Hodge said of the Lady Chiefs’ first-half play. “We prepared one way and (Ozark) came out in a different formation. They had a little bit better of the play, but I thought we still had some good chances. We made an adjustment at halftime that I think really gave us some more opportunities, won the ball in the midfield a little more, and created more opportunities with another forward up top.
“Their (Ozark’s) coaches came up with a terrific game plan. And our kids – we just told them that someone’s got to come down and make a play.”
…which McClean did.
“What an incredible play,” Hodge said. “She put the team on her back at that point and just found a way to get it by the keeper. What a shot. What a play. What a moment. I’m happy for her.”
Ozark came out strong in the first half, and the remainder of the game was evenly matched before McClean broke free.
“We tried to make the right adjustments, and that’s what makes Kickapoo a great team,” Ozark coach Chris Shull said. “They play really, really good teams, just like Nixa and Ozark do. I’ve seen teams dominate games, possession, against Kickapoo, but they’re well-coached and they find a way and get it done. We just had a breakdown and that’s all it took.”
The Lady Tigers, who ended their season with a 15-8-2 record, came into the championship game on a seven-game winning streak. But, for the third-straight year, their season ended with a loss to Kickapoo.
“I was really proud in our last two to three weeks leading up to districts, we were getting everyone back healthy, and we were playing together as a team,” Shull said. “We made a run for it, we just came up slightly short. I’m proud of the girls and told them to keep their heads up.”
But, the Lady Tigers’ standout and Mizzou signee, Jadyn Easley, had been under the weather for the past week or so.
“She gave us all she had (on Tuesday – a 2-1 overtime win over Nixa in the semifinals),” Shull said of Easley, who ended her Ozark career with 130 goals. “She’s had a pretty rough go the last week, and I’m not sure how much was in the tank tonight. But, credit to her, she wanted to play and play it out and grit it out.”
The Lady Chiefs, who improved to 18-5-1 overall, have now won 11-straight games – including a perfect 9-0 run through the Ozark Conference for their second-straight league title. Their last loss came to Columbia Rock Bridge (4-1) on April 16.
“We start prepping for this moment in January,” Hodge said of the postseason. “These girls have played soccer their whole lives and devoted a lot of time. This is why you play – this moment right here.”
Up next for the Lady Chiefs is a sectional matchup with OC foe Central, a 2-1 winner over Republic in the Class 4 District 10 championship, on Tuesday, May 21.
“We can’t let down,” Hodge said. “We were pretty successful against Central in the regular season. This was kind of the same moment, the same feeling that we had last year against Ozark – we won in PKs. We’ll take a night and digest it all, celebrate for a day, practice and see what we can come up with for Tuesday.”
“It’s going to be another battle,” McClean said. “We just have to go at it – nobody’s won yet. It’s not over.”