A long winter forced much of Republic’s preseason girls soccer preparation indoors.
But those two-hour conditioning sessions without shin guards and balls may have been the difference in extending the Lady Tigers’ season on a humid mid-May Friday afternoon.
Republic had just enough energy left down the stretch to hang on for a 2-1 Class 2 District 11 championship victory against Willard.
“All we do in the preseason is just run, we don’t touch a ball, we just run, run, run,” Republic junior Sara Marcotte said of the sessions, which included long runs through the school’s hallways. “At the end of the games, normally we have a lot left in the tank than the other teams, and that really pays off.”
It was the second straight district title for Republic’s 3-year-old program. The Lady Tigers (18-6) will play host to Carl Junction on Tuesday for a sectional game.
The district final was a matchup of emerging programs that had just one district title apiece entering the season. The Central Ozark Conference rivals did not play in the regular season, though, as bad weather canceled the match.
On Friday, Republic junior Sierra Casagrand opened the scoring with a high free kick from 35 yards out as the midway point of the first half neared.
“I just aimed for the goal,” Casagrand said. “(Coach Mike) Hines gives me the green light to shoot from out there, so that’s what I did.”
Marcotte then scored on a crossing ball with 15:02 before halftime. She did not mean to shoot it, but it proved to be the winning goal.
“I was just putting it toward the net hoping Sierra would run in and hit it,” Marcotte said. “But it hits my foot one way, and it goes in the net.”
After halftime, Willard went on the attack, resulting in its only goal. Senior Lindsay Owens found a ball in traffic and made it a one-goal game less than 5 minutes after halftime.
Willard coach Brad Hornback said the loss was tough to swallow after he felt his team outplayed Republic, which got seven saves from senior goalkeeper Taylor Patton.
As Willard continued pressuring, Hines moved Marcotte from forward to defense in the final 18 minutes of the game, helping stave off the desperate visitors.
“We weren’t really generating any offense anyway,” Hines said. “And when you have a player of her caliber, we’re going to put her where the action is because Willard was pressing. And they did a great job of putting us on our heels.”
Willard (16-4) won its first 14 games of the season, and will graduate a group of seniors with the most wins in school history.
“This is a special group,” Hornback said. “There are lots of positives, and they can hold their heads high.”
The Lady Tigers have Dylan Owens for two more seasons, after she broke her own school record this year with 32 goals.
As for Republic, up next is another young program in Carl Junction, which is playing for the fifth season.
“We knew that this would maybe be our last chance to play together as a team, and it’s good to have friends on the team that you enjoy playing with,” Casagrand said. “We really wanted to move on.”