It is a game the O’Gorman girls soccer team has been talking about for years.
Tonight, McEneaney Field – their home field – will play host to the four state championship games and they are among the qualifiers, having earned the right to defend their Class AA title against Rapid City Central with an overtime win against Pierre on Wednesday.
“We have known that this game was going to be played here at O’Gorman for three years and we’ve been talking about it for three years,” coach Ryan Beier said. “Your senior year, it’s going to be an opportunity and the kids have really thrived on that, making it one of their goals to get here and play in this game.”
“We’re really excited that it’s on our home turf,” forward Sydney Venner said.
“We always talk about playing on our home field,” defender Mackenzie Ekern added. “We’ve made it this far. It’s our last game, so we have to play our best.”
For the team’s eight seniors, the opportunity to close out their careers with another championship comes on the field where they have gone undefeated over their four seasons at O’Gorman. This may be their fourth consecutive title game appearance, but there is no denying that this one brings a different level of excitement.
“It’s really cool just to see how we progressed throughout the season,” midfielder Theresa Pujado said. “And the fact it’s our home turf just adds to the excitement.”
“We couldn’t have written a script better than this,” Beier said. “But it’s not over, there’s a chapter to be written.”
Though they are focused on the task at hand, the fact that they have arrived at their final game together has not been lost on any of O’Gorman’s seniors, some of whom will be playing the last game of their career.
“I’m finishing my last high school game with my best friends,” said Pujado. “That’s one of the most amazing feelings I could ever ask for.”
“This ride at O’Gorman has been such a memorable and great journey,” defender Jillian Gauer added. “I’ve made so many good friends and ending it on our home turf will be a great way to say goodbye.”
EXPERIENCE PAYING DIVIDENDS FOR KNIGHTS
If O’Gorman is dealing with any nerves, it certainly didn’t show during Thursday’s practice.
It was a loose, upbeat atmosphere, a reflection of the team’s confidence and experience.
“I think there’s a lot of focus,” Beier explained. “We know what we need to do. I like that comfort level that we have. You just come out and do what you know you need to do and you don’t have to worry about nerves.”
“I feel like when we’re playing the best, we’re having fun,” Ekern said. “So this is how we usually play.”
• Beier on freshman Katelyn Rush, who has seven goals and two assists: “She’s been huge. She gives us a ton of speed and confidence…She’s big. She comes in and works hard to try and get space and if they give her space she’s going to go to goal.”
• After tearing her ACL last year, Olivia Surrell has put together a strong season in net, making 42 saves with just seven goals allowed. She has eight shutouts this season.
“I’ve had a pretty good season,” she said. “My defenders have been really good at keeping the ball in front and everything, but I’ve had a good couple saves, like last game I had a really good save. I think last game was my best game.”
• Fun with numbers: The Knights are out-scoring their opponents 48-7, and out-shooting them by an average of 16-3… They’ve had assists on 22 of their 48 goals scored… Pujado, who will continue her career next season at Nebraska, leads the team with 12 goals and three assists. She’s registered 50 shots, 24 of which have been on goal (48 percent).
• The last time O’Gorman faced Rapid City Central was in last year’s championship game. With no regular season matches to analyze, the Knights only have Central’s semifinal match against Lincoln on Tuesday to work off of.
“They’re fast up top,” Pujado said. “I would say they’re similar to Pierre.”
“They’re physical,” added Gauer. “They’re a very different team than the one we played last year.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .