Although it was a not-so-perfect ending to an almost perfect season for the Buford Lady Wolves soccer team, coach Crystal Fowler knows that this season is one for the history books for the girls soccer program.
In their fourth-ever state semifinal appearance, this time following an undefeated regular season and a Region 7-AAA championship for Buford (19-1, 7-0 Region 7-AAA), it came out with high expectations for perennial powerhouse St. Pius X but couldn’t find a way to solve the Golden Lions as they fell 7-3 in the Class AAA state semifinals on Tuesday in Buford.
Despite the outcome, however, Fowler had nothing but positive messages for her team following the game.
“I just told them ‘they don’t deserve our tears,’” Fowler said. “We’ve had a great season. We were just unlucky today.”
The Lady Wolves struck first on a goal from Ceely Coker on a direct kick from Jessi Vaverka, but St. Pius X responded quickly and found enough momentum to take a 2-1 lead into halftime.
In an unfamiliar spot trailing at halftime, Fowler encouraged her team to keep pushing and playing hard like they knew how to do.
“I told them it’s all about heart and digging deep,” Fowler said. “You’ve got to get to that next place, that extra spot within you and just fight.”
St. Pius scored twice more in the beginning of the second half to increase their lead to three goals when Buford began trying for a comeback. Ambria Shutts scored on from a distance to make the score 4-2 before Elexa Bahr scored on a breakaway where the Golden Lions’ goalkeeper came out of her net and Bahr faked around her to put the ball in an open net.
The Lady Wolves appeared to be gaining momentum, but Bahr’s goal would be the last of the season for Buford as St. Pius scored three more times before time ran out.
Buford certainly had bigger goals for the season after seeing such success earlier in the year, but defenders like Vaverka and Brooke Horist look at the game as a learning opportunity to better themselves for next season.
“I think we can learn most that just because we had an undefeated season doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to be going for us for the rest of the season,” the sophomore Horist said. “We just didn’t stick to it as a group like we should have.”
Fowler admits that St. Pius X was the toughest opponent the team faced all season, which may have been a disadvantage for the Lady Wolves.
“We had only allowed four goals all year until tonight,” she said. “They’re not used to having to play so hard, and some of it was youth, just knowing what to do with the ball and taking care of it.”
While youth may have been a small factor hindering the team in the semifinals, Fowler and Horist agree that having a number of returning players will be helpful for the team next season.
“We’re losing some good seniors, but next year will be as strong as it is now, minus a couple of setbacks, but I think it will keep us going next year too,” Horist said.
Fowler said that the seniors were key players on the team but emphasized that Buford has a number of younger players in their starting lineup, including four freshmen, and a goalie in her first season at the position.
Horist said that along with having a few experienced players mixed in with younger players, the team’s familiarity with strong teams helped them succeed even more this year.
“It was the boost of talent that our group had this year, and the fact that last year we were in sort of the same position,” Horist said.
“We’ve got to stick with it next year though. We could have done better.”