GREENBACK — It took three years, but the Greenback girls soccer team has finally done it.
After falling to Polk County in the last two District 4-A championships, the Lady Cherokees downed their familiar rival in penalty kicks Thursday night at home for their first district tournament title in 10 years.
“We finally got that monkey off our back,” Greenback coach Rob Fox said. “We finally got a set that is very, very talented, so we’re finally in a position to compete with some of the top programs.”
The game was scoreless after regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods before Greenback won in the second round of the shootout, 4-3.
The Lady Cherokees (13-4-1) will host Cumberland Gap in the Region 2-A Tournament Tuesday.
Jenna McConnell was responsible for the shot that ultimately sealed the victory in sudden death. Polk County (7-5-3) followed her goal with a kick that slammed against the crossbar.
A midfielder, McConnell has the tendency to shoot high. This time, she said she knew her shot was on target for the top left corner the moment it came off her foot.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going in the back corner,” McConnell said. “I knew she couldn’t reach it there.”
Greenback goalkeeper Angelita Astudillo kept the Wildcats from finding the back of the net for 100 minutes and finished with 13 saves. She entered the tournament with a save percentage of 83%.
Fox said Astudillo is “the most calm” and that “nothing rattles her.”
She may have appeared composed, but Astudillo summarized her feelings throughout Thursday’s game in a different, but brief, way.
“A heart attack,” she said. “I hate PK’s — that’s like the biggest fear for me.”
Fox kept his pep talk to Astudillo simple ahead of penalty kicks. It was her first time in that situation as well as the first time the Lady Cherokees had a game decided that way in Fox’s six years at the helm.
“He didn’t really have a conversation,” Astudillo said. “It was, ‘You’re good, be confident. If you miss it, you miss it. Don’t let it bother you because you’re a good keeper. Just do what you can.’”
Greenback and Polk County entered the second round of penalty kicks tied 3-3 before each team sent their following shots off target of the goal. Next up was McConnell.
“I had to focus,” McConnell said. “I had stay confident so I could make that kick. Then all we had to do was stop that one goal, and she missed it off the top. It was a great feeling at the end.”
The Lady Cherokees beat Polk County on the road 3-1 during the regular season, and they sustain their unblemished district record.
Polk County defeated Greenback 1-0 in 2018 and 2-0 in 2017 for back-to-back district tournament titles.
“It took us 10 years,” Astudillo said. “Ten years to get this far again, and it feels amazing.”
Greenback’s next opponent, Cumberland Gap, defeated the Lady Cherokees, 8-2, on Aug. 22 in their second game of the season.
Fox said this Greenback team isn’t the same as that one.
“We lost to them badly in the beginning of the season, so it feels like a different world,” Fox said. “They’re a very good team, but I think we’ll compete better than the first time around.”