WCHS soccer sees season end on controversial call
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It will be a whistle Warren County soccer fans won’t soon forget. McMinn County was able to eliminate the Lady Pioneers from the postseason Monday night, using a controversial call in overtime to set up game-winning goal as the Lady Cherokees won 6-5.
Warren County, which had battled back at the end of regulation and in overtime, was shell shocked as McMinn County scored off a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box with :29 left. The call, vehemently protested by the Lady Pioneers, the Warren County coaching staff and the fans who made the long trip, stopped a dream season which saw Warren County win 14 games.
“I felt like, overall, we played our hearts out. The effort was there,” said coach Todd Willmore. “We didn’t get some breaks. It’s tough to see it end that way.
“Our coaching staff was talking during the game and afterwards and agreed it was our best effort from we’ve seen from start to finish. We moved our formation around a little bit and some girls who we needed to step up did a great job. There’s nothing you could be unhappy about effort wise.”
In what was her final game as a Lady Pioneer, senior Katie Toney was again sensational. She had two goals and a pair of assists, cementing her spot as one of the best players in Region 3AAA and, undoubtedly, one of the best Lady Pioneers of all time. Toney scored both her goals in the first half, when the Lady Pioneers went to the break up 3-2, and dished out her final assist in the second OT after McMinn County had went up 5-4 in extra time.
Toney, like the rest of the senior class, was crushed following the game. She also left battered and bruised after absorbing an abundance of hits while trying to will Warren County to victory.
“I’m a huge John Wooden fan and to paraphrase him, ‘Success is when you leave a match and know you did your all.’ There is no doubt in my mind Katie Toney left her soul on the field,” said Willmore when asked about his star senior’s final effort. “She’s probably had the greatest career of anybody in our program. You can’t say enough about how much better she made us and those around her. She’s a great player.
“You could tell tonight meant a little more to her. She was more vocal in warmups and at halftime. She was encouraging – just constant encouragement. It’s pretty special to see her play.”
McMinn County struck first in the opening minutes, but Warren County seized control with a pair of beautiful goals midway the first half. Precision passing set up the first goal, with the team picking apart the Lady Cherokee defense to find a great shot.
At the end, it was senior Jessica Chastain playing from the outside to the center as Toney flew into the area. Toney lined it up from atop the 18 and found the mark, knotting the score at 1-1 with 24:18 left in the first half.
Seconds later, Toney teed up Jackson for the go-ahead goal. Jackson, who has been amazing as the team’s No. 2 option the last two years, found the net just 45 seconds after the team’s first goal, putting Warren County up 2-1.
McMinn County found the equalizer with 14:41 left in the first half, but Toney made sure the Lady Pioneers had the momentum going into break. The senior showed off her powerful leg from the right edge, pounding a shot that froze the keeper and flew into the left side to push Warren County up 3-2 at halftime.
“It was an absolute rocket. I’m not sure if the keeper even had time to move. There was no doubt on that one,” said Willmore.
Great seniors Jaden Smartt, Shelby Roberts and Breezy Wanamaker played their final games as Lady Pioneers Tuesday night.
All the excitement on the Warren County sideline seemed to be sapped away early in the second half. McMinn County tied the game just three minutes after the break, a period when the Lady Pioneers seemed to lose their edge.
“The first 10 minutes of the second half, it got away from us briefly. I didn’t have the girls ready coming back out on the field,” said Willmore.
The Lady Cherokees took the lead with 13:46 to play, but the Lady Pioneers weren’t going to go down without a fight. Toney once again got on the attack and absorbed contact, this time for the McMinn County keeper.
A collision between Toney and the keeper, who tried to come out and take on Toney, saw the ball get away and roll right to Jackson. She didn’t waste any time, taking a quick touch before hammering into an open net to tie the game with 12:59 left.
Warren County had some late chances to put the game away, but was unable to find the mark and avoid overtime. In the postseason, instead of going straight to PKs – which Warren County saw once this season – games first advance to two 10-minute halves. The extra 20 minutes were action packed.
McMinn County scored in the first OT period, leaving Willmore little choice to adjust his attack. His first choice – send the team’s faster player on the offensive.
“We pushed Bailey up high to give us another forward. We didn’t have time to sit back and wait again. We got a transition through the middle and Katie was on the attack. Bailey was running with her and Katie slid it to the left. It was a pretty goal,” said Willmore.
Juniors Bailey Bundy and Bekah Jackson each had late goals in the Region 3AAA semifinal.
Bundy’s goal tied the game at 4:23 left in the second overtime. Warren County had another chance seconds later to take the lead, but it was stalled by the McMinn County defense. As the final seconds started ticking away, it seemed as if the game was destined to go to PKs to decide a winner.
That was before a late whistle changed everything. McMinn County mounted one last attack, but the Lady Pioneer defense had it snuffed out and all the Lady Cherokees stood up at the box. When it looked like the threat was neutralized, the referee whistled a foul just outside the box, giving McMinn County a perfect look at the net in the final seconds.
A low shot was able to bounce around and find its way into Warren County’s net, leaving the Lady Pioneers stunned and the team’s coaches and fans seething. There was no way to reverse the call and no time left for the Lady Pioneers to mount a final attack.
Toney’s two goals in the Region 3AAA semifinals gave her 37 goals this season, a new career high. Toney finished her Lady Pioneer career with a school-record 113 goals.
Tuesday’s loss was also the final game for Chastain, Natalie Stepien, Jaden Smartt, Samantha Perez, Ashlyn Fults, Shelby Roberts, Alondra Parada and Breezy Wanamaker. It was a heartbreaking moment after the game as tears flowed on the Warren County sideline as the nine seniors began packing their things for a final time.
It won’t be easy for the Lady Pioneers to replace such a special group. Stepien, Smartt and Roberts were a big part of the team’s backline this year and were all-district selections (Stepien and Roberts have been honored as all-region performers in their careers as well). Chastain and Wanamaker have been consistent performers as offensive weapons, while Fults, Parada and Perez are hard workers who have helped the Lady Pioneers win 45 games over four years.
The cupboard isn’t bare though. Jackson and Bundy will both be back as seniors next year, as will all-district honoree Savannah Winfree. Keeper Brooklyn Wanamaker will return after an all-district season as a sophomore. Hailey Simpson and Carmen Verdel, both sophomores, have been playing on the varsity team in each of the last two years.
Odds are, the Lady Pioneers will restock and reload by 2022. Right now, they’ll need at least that long to get over such a controversial whistle as well.