By Colin Bado, TSB Staff
“These girls have the heart of a Lion,” said McKinney High girls soccer coach Alex Pantarotto. “They are relentless.”
Behind a Kathy Millar goal and a stout defense, the Lionettes upset Mesquite Horn 1-0 in the Area round of the UIL Class 5A playoffs at Plano’s Clark Stadium on Friday night. Horn (20-4-2) finished second in District 12-5A during the regular season.
With the win, McKinney (14-7) will face Sachse in a Regional Quarterfinal match next Tuesday night at Wylie Stadium, beginning at 6 p.m.
The Lionettes’ lone goal came in the 35th minute off the foot of Millar, a goal that exemplified the team’s ball skills and their ability to move it despite facing a domineering defense. Forward Lizzie Navarette maneuvered the ball into the middle of the pitch, enticing the Lady Jaguar defense. When the defense collapsed on her, an opening presented itself. She chipped a perfect through ball to Millar. Millar collected the ball at her feet and shot it past Horn goalkeeper Bayleah Hill, giving the Lionettes a 1-0 advantage.
“We were able to isolate Kathy within the defense,” said Pantarotto. “Once she got the ball, she made a great shot with her left foot.”
Millar has become a vital player on the MHS roster. A regular season that saw the team plagued with injuries forced Pantarotto to find young players who could step up and contribute.
“Kathy was on the junior varsity at the beginning of the year, but with all the injuries that we are facing we decided to put her in, and she paid off with a critical goal,” said Pantarotto.
The Lionettes have been forced to overcome adversity, as injuries have continued to be a major factor this season. Captain and leading scorer Natalie Throneberry left the previous match against Richardson Pearce due to an ankle injury. And on Friday night, midfielder Lauren Neely and forward Jessica Wells were forced to leave the pitch due to injuries of their own. Their status is unknown at this time for Tuesday’s match.
Throughout the game, the Lionettes maintained possession of the ball. The Lady Jaguars were forced to play a defensive formation as they tried to slow down McKinney’s unrelenting offensive attacks. On a number of occasions, the Lionettes came close to adding to their lead but fell short. Midfielder Sarah Morris unloaded a shot from the 18-yard box, but missed just wide.
The Lady Jaguars’ offense struggled to move the ball into the Lionettes’ zone, but when opportunities arose, Horn didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and take a shot. Lady Jaguar Brooke Hill was ambitious in her efforts, firing shots from 20-to-30 yards beyond the goal. Lionette keeper Madelynn Schober was able to prevent Hill’s shots from imposing any damage.
“Schober plays with confidence,” said Pantorotto. “When the defense knows they have confident goalkeeper they are more comfortable.”
Schober’s role within the Lionette’s squad is critical. Her presence in the goal is instrumental in the success of the team. In the 71st minute, Schober sacrified her body at the feet of Horn’s Courtney King in order to prevent a goal. Repeatedly, Schober and the Lionette defense played with tenacity, minimizing the Lady Jaguar’s opportunities to tie the game.
There is no doubt that the Lionettes’ playoff run has been surprising, to say the least. After finishing fourth in District 10-5A, McKinney has advanced to the Regional Quarterfinal round scoring just two goals, but most importantly, allowing zero. Despite the team’s lack of size, Pantorotto said after the match that the adversity the team experienced during district play is the biggest reason that they are the last McKinney girls team standing.
“We’re the size of a 4A squad competing at a 5A level,” he said. “No one expected us to go this far, but playing in a tough district against Plano West, Boyd, and Allen prepared us for the playoffs. We are the only girls team from McKinney left in the playoffs.”
After 19 seasons at the helm at McKinney High, Pantorotto understands what it takes to win postseason soccer matches. With the upcoming match with Sachse just days away, the head coach said he wants to make the program’s “playoff cake” just a little bigger.
“The playoff victories are icing on the cake,” he said, “but I want more icing so that we can make a bigger cake.”