After receiving the fifth seed in the state coming out of the district tournament, the Auburn Riverside girls soccer team was met with a unique challenge in the Mead Panthers in the opening round of the state tournament Nov. 10. The Ravens fell 3-0 for their largest defeat since Oct. 19, 2017, against Todd Beamer.
“We talked right after the game and everybody agreed, it was a terrible time to play your absolute worst game of the season,” said Head Coach Paul Lewis.
The two sides met at Interbay Stadium on Nov. 10. Mead had travelled the second furthest distance for its opening round game (292 miles). But based on their start, they played with energy like they lived on the Interbay grounds.
“Full credit to Mead, they were excellent. The pressured, played the ball so well and earned those goals,” Lewis said.
Before the Ravens really had any possession of the ball, Mead threatened the Ravens early and often. Inside the third minute, Mead got on the board. Getting going early is a big key in the state tournament, and Lewis knows that all too well.
“I think a lot of these games are decided on how you start the game and the momentum you can build from the beginning. They started out really fast… We were kind of waiting around to see who would set the tone, and the other team did,” he said.
Something that might have hurt the Ravens is the age-old argument of rest vs. fresh. Before the game against Mead, the Ravens’ most recent game was nine days prior on Halloween.
“I don’t know if having so much time off between our last game and this one helped us very much… It would have been nice to play a little more,” Lewis said.
On the Panthers’ first corner of the game, Taryn Gardener rose above the Ravens’ defenders and headed the ball into the net.
“I think there was a little bit of shell shock after that first goal,” Lewis said
Just seven minutes later, the Panthers threatened again. After a corner from Mead, Auburn Riverside couldn’t quite clear the ball. Then defender Nora Cullen curled the ball into the top right corner of the goal. Senior keeper Rory Murry was in the right spot for the save and took her arms back at the last second, just an uncharacteristic mistake from the soon-to-be Wyoming Cowgirl.
“Rory is an amazing goalie, defensive MVP of our league. She made a mistake, it was maybe a little overthinking,” Lewis said.
Auburn Riverside didn’t even register a shot until the 22nd minute of the game. The Panthers just really frustrated the Ravens’ attack and suffocated Auburn Riverside in the attacking third of the field.
Coming out of halftime, there was a hope that Riverside could turn around their misfortune of the first half with a solid second half. But instead, Mead put the Ravens to bed with an early bedtime.
Two minutes into the second half, the Panthers struck again. Gardener got her second goal of the game with another header. The Panthers’ three goals in just 42 minutes was the most goals the Ravens had given up in a long time.
In this season and last season alone, Auburn Riverside had given up just two goals in a game just three times out of 37 games. The last time the Ravens allowed three goals was Oct. 9, 2018, in a 3-3 draw against Thomas Jefferson.
Auburn Riverside had significant turnover from the 2022 season to this season.
“I’m tremendously proud of the season we had. Overall, having lost as many started off last year’s team, seven or eight and replacing all three captains was a big feat… I don’t know if anybody, even ourselves, necessarily expected us to perform the way we did this year,” Lewis said.