Championship wait ends for WildcatsOctober 10, 2017
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
JASPER — Some wore it around their neck like a scarf. A few took selfies with it directly after cutting it loose from the goal. Others waved it rapidly through the air as sort of a post-match rally towel.
While each member of the Jasper girls soccer team was displaying her piece of netting in a different way, one common theme was clear — this was a long time coming.
“All of the hard work, sweat, tears and pain over the years paid off, all for a piece of netting,” senior Olivia Ruckriegel said after the Wildcats’ 5-1 victory over Big Eight Conference foe Washington in a Class 2A sectional championship Monday night. The result clinched the Cats (13-5-1) a regional berth for the first time since 2007.
“It might sound crazy to some people to wonder why this piece of net around my neck means so much, but it’s more than just a piece of net,” Ruckriegel continued. “This net represents time, hard work, passion and love for something I’ve put my whole life into.”
Ruckriegel, who scored two of the Wildcat goals and also added an assist, wasn’t alone in the celebrating the feeling brought on by cutting down the net.
Some of the Cats cut off so much of it, it didn’t look like there would be any left for anyone else.
“My mom yelled at me and she was like, ‘Leave some for the others,’” senior Ashley Haskins said. “I told her, ‘Nah, I’m going to make a little scarf for myself.’ This whole situation is just unbelievable. We knew it hadn’t been done in 10 years, so it’s a crazy feeling that we are the ones to do it.”
It was no secret there was a bit of a sectional championship drought for the Wildcats. But once they got past Class 2A No. 5 Gibson Southern 2-1 in the sectional semifinals, the Cats knew there was a good shot they’d finally bring home another postseason trophy.
“Every year I thought, ‘This will be the year we’ll get it.’ But at the beginning of this year, we knew this was really it,” senior Hannah Love said. “I’m still shaking because none of this feels real — I don’t even think I’ll sleep an hour tonight because I’m so excited.”
The Wildcats dominated possession in the first half against the Hatchets (5-10-2), with Haskins seemingly taking corner kick after corner kick. Three of them came on consecutive plays, the first time she’s had that happen in her career.
“Of all the matches to have that happen in,” Haskins said with a laugh. “I’ve had to do them two in a row before, but never three in a row. I just felt like I was running back and forth endlessly.”
However, the Cats weren’t able to hit the back of the net until 1:41 before halftime, when Love found Ruckriegel to put the Cats up 1-0.
Ruckriegel was quick to return the favor, as she saw Love cutting toward the goal just 53 seconds into the second half to put Jasper up 2-0. Ruckriegel went on to add another goal, with Haskins and Regan Mundy also scoring for the Cats in the second half with Leah Schnell adding an assist. The lone Washington goal was scored by Peyton Summers.
From putting in goals at Jasper Middle School to playing on the same travel teams over the years, the connection between Ruckriegel and Love has grown stronger — both on and off the pitch.
“We call ourselves a combo and it started out as just a joke, but then we realized that we can do these one-two punch kind of things and we can feed off of each other,” Ruckriegel said. “We’ve also been able to communicate without speaking, which is something I haven’t been able to do with many teammates. To just have a friendship like that is just so awesome, I can’t express that enough.”
“Her skills just work well with mine, and it’s almost like she knows where my foot is going to be before it’s even there,” Love added. “I think the reason we’ve been so successful is because we’re just as close (of) friends off the field as we are on it.”
With a battle against 2A No. 1 Evansville Memorial (15-4) coming up in a regional-semifinal match, set for Saturday at 10 a.m. in Jasper, the Wildcats know a tall ask awaits. But as Jasper coach Michael Donato said, “If you want to move on, you have to knock off the really good teams.”
Donato is confident if the Cats play the way they did against the Titans and Hatchets, the Tigers will be in a for tough battle this weekend.
“These girls proved to themselves that they have the intensity to play and compete against anyone,” Donato said.
For Love, a victory against the state’s top-ranked team would just knock another item off of her checklist before graduating this May. But Monday night’s win hadn’t escaped her mind just yet.
“A win against (Memorial) would be bigger than anything we’ve even dreamed of this season,” Love said. “But (winning sectional) still feels surreal, I’ve got to let this one soak in a little longer.”
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