Kyle Korth ended his high school soccer career the way a lot of children playing the game dream of doing it.
State championship game. Overtime. Everything on the line in penalty kicks. He was up next.
Madison was up 3-2 in PKs and just needed one more to secure the championship over Alcoa.
As Korth approached the ball, Alcoa’s goalkeeper stepped early to his right, apparently anticipating a shot to that side of the net, before stopping and starting to step in the other direction.
At that instant, Korth kicked the ball into the end of the net the goalkeeper was stepping away from, giving him no chance of getting in front to make the save.
The ball went into the corner of the net, and Korth calmly turned around to see the rest of the Mustangs running onto the field to celebrate making history.
Korth felt the clincher was a sort of redemption for him for earlier in the game.
“I was already mad at myself for missing a clearance right before the end of regulation,” Korth said. “But I knew the goalie wasn’t as quick as some of the others we’d played against so if I placed it well, we could get the goal.”
Korth wasn’t the only Mustang feeling bad about allowing the game to get to overtime and eventually penalty kicks.
Alcoa scored first in the first few minutes of the game. Madison had taken the lead by halftime, 2-1, and held it for nearly the entire second half. But Alcoa scored with about two minutes remaining in regulation.
“The same player for them scored both of their goals,” said Braden Nye. “And he was the guy I was supposed to defend, and he scored both times that I didn’t mark him.”
The ending was a fitting one for the Mustangs. Fifty-two weeks earlier, they were in the exact situation but came up on the losing end, finishing as state runner-up to Gatlinburg-Pittman.
But while the players said they were frustrated with themselves for having not avoided overtime, they weren’t in panic mode.
“When they tied it up there at the end, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” said Donovan Pruitte, who made program history by scoring 106 career goals in three seasons. “And I could see a few faces that looked like, ‘Oh no, not this again.’
“But I knew we had great kickers on our team and we could do this. And I think everyone else on the field felt the same way, because that’s how we played.”
The good thing for the Mustangs was they were confident all week during Spring Fling. They’d vanquished Pittman in the semifinals two days before 4-0, and they felt they’d solidified themselves as establishing once and for all they were the better team between those two.
And they just needed to take advantage of their opportunities against Alcoa.
They also had the motivation of eying this stage all season and knowing that coming away with anything but a championship would leave a bad feeling for them because of a missed opportunity.
“Every year we’ve played we’ve improved a little bit,” Pruitte said. “We made the state quarterfinals as sophomores and then we made it to the championship.
“Coach [Igor Luczensky] talked with us early on in the season that anything less than a state championship would be viewed as failure. And none of us wanted to walk away from this season looking at it as a failure.”
Luczensky even made PK drills a regular part of practice to make sure they were prepared if the situation came up again.
“We had different competitions where everyone took a PK in different circumstances,” Nye said. “Sometimes it was kicking with our weak foot.
“One time it was turning around 10 times to get dizzy and then kicking – just different ways to get us more accustomed to kicking in that situation with pressure on us. And I know I felt a lot calmer entering that situation than I was a year before.”
All three will continue playing soccer. Korth will be playing club ball, while Pruitte and Nye signed scholarships to play at Alabama-Huntsville and Auburn-Montgomery, respectively.
UAH and AUM are in the same conference, and with Pruitte on offense and Nye on defense, it’s possible if they’re in the game at the same time they’ll be going against each other.
“We haven’t talked much about that potential, but it’ll be fun,” Nye said. “We’ve played against each other lots of times, but this time it’ll be in college.”
All three players have played on the same team in some combination in rec league or club ball every year since second grade. They’ve all played on the same school team together since sixth grade.
“It was a great run and a great way to end it,” Korth said. “And I know there’s a ton of great talent coming back that knows what it takes to win a championship, so hopefully this is just the start of something great for Madison soccer.”
Brandon Shields, firstname.lastname@example.org