In many cases, a tie is an undesirable scenario, but in the case of Kentridge against Mount Si on the high school girls soccer pitch Sept. 26, a 1-1 draw shows how close these two teams are.
“I thought they played great,” said Kentridge coach Jeff Fleming. “They had to play physical, and they did. That was where we won, being physical and winning in the midfield.”
According to the RPI poll, both sides were ranked inside the top 20 in the state at the 4A level. Both sides entered with identical records at 6-1, proving that these teams could meet again in the postseason.
“I feel like we played really well,” said Kentridge senior Jayda Sparks. “We knew coming in they were fourth or fifth in state and we knew that it would competitive, one of our most competitive of the year.”
The Wildcats seemed to take control early on in the game, but no real threats were made on goal. This was due in part by junior Addison Stendera, who is the Chargers’ central defender.
“She’s the smartest player on the field in my opinion,” said Fleming.
The Wildcats struck first in the opening half. After Kentridge and Mount Si traded goal opportunities in the 26th minute, Mount Si took the lead. How the Wildcats did it was with a little help from Stendera. The Wildcats sent a ball across the goal, but before it could do that, it deflected off Stendera and over the outstretched arms of the Charger keeper.
“She’s a really strong mental player,” Sparks said of her teammate. “I feel like it was just a minor setback, and she came back stronger and nothing to worry about.”
It was the one mistake Stendera made all game, and her response is what you would expect a senior to have.
For the rest of the first half junior Shiney Mayanja had some great moments with shots on goal and created a lot of space on the offensive end. Even with three minutes to go in the half, the ball hit a Wildcat hand inside the penalty area. However, the head referee deemed her hand was in a natural position, so the penalty was not granted. So going into halftime the Chargers would have to settle being down 1-0.
During the break Fleming told his girls to continue to put pressure on the Wildcats.
“We were physically getting outplayed a little bit, so we had to ramp it up,” said Fleming.
There was no panic in the Chargers, a team that has scored 29 goals over its previous three games, coming into this contest knowing it can score.
Both teams played extremely physical games to start, and in the second half both teams were playing like it was more than just a nonleague game in September.
“It’s kind of in our nature,” Sparks said. “We’re all pretty competitive players. I feel like at the beginning we weren’t as competitive as the other team… By the end we started getting a little upset when we were losing and had to come on top and push back a little bit.”
Early in the second half, Sparks took a free kick for the Chargers from 37 yards away from goal. The ball was placed nearly perfect and it took a perfectly timed jump for the Mount Si goalie to stop it. Sparks took every free kick except one for the Chargers and her next one would be the biggest one of the game.
With under 10 minutes to go, Tiana Stephenson was working on a Mount Si defender and the ball hit the Wildcat player’s hand. This time the referee, after confirming with the assistant referee, granted Kentridge a penalty shot. Sparks was the one to take it for the Chargers: “100%” Fleming said on his confidence level with Sparks taking the shot.
She cashed in and found the back of the net in the bottom left corner.
“When someone steps up it’s just more intimidating to the keeper,” Sparks said. “I feel like it just had to be done. There was never a doubt.”
Kentridge continued to pursue the winning goal, but a tie was all the time on the clock allowed them to get. Playing tight games against good teams is what Kentridge needs to prepare itself for a playoff run.
“I’m not sure our girls thought they could stand up to a team like that,” Fleming said. “I did. I think it’ll build confidence and we’re going to have to continue to play that way. ”
The last time Kentridge made the state tournament was 2018. Last season and the year before, their dreams of state were dashed in the district tournament. Last year they lost in a winner-to-state matchup against Kentwood, 1-0, and before that they lost to Union, 2-0. This season their goal is to fight through the district tournament.
“A couple other seniors and myself are saying ‘This is the year we’re going to state,’” Sparks said. “We have been preparing ourselves, working really hard in the offseason. So, I feel like this is the year that Kentridge finally makes it to state.”