MURFREESBORO — After a tearful postgame conversation between bundled up Maryville soccer coaches and shivering players who couldn’t find more clothing fast enough, the Lady Rebels quickly walked off the field for cover following the final game of their season.
“Walked” is the operative word because it means none of them were injured — an impressive development after the TSSAA forced them to play the semifinal against Brentwood in deplorable field conditions that began poor and quickly became unplayable at Siegel Soccer Park.
The Lady Rebels fell to the No. 4-nationally Bruins 6-0 in the semifinals of the Class AAA state tournament Thursday afternoon.
Brentwood (16-0) scored five of those goals after halftime, but none of them came as a result of playing the type of attractive, possession-based soccer it and Maryville (18-4-3) have thrived on all season.
The conditions made it so the players couldn’t run or stop without slipping or falling. At one point in the first half, one player subbed out and said to her coach, ‘It’s so hard to run.’
Later in the first half a player on the other team screamed, “I hate this field.”
“It was absolute slop. It was just a mess,” Maryville senior midfielder Clara McKinnis said. “We couldn’t generate anything because the ball would just die. You couldn’t dribble it. You couldn’t pass it. All you could really do was hit it up in the air and that’s not really the best soccer you can play.”
Maryville would have been up against it even in perfect conditions. Brentwood has dominated opponents all season and even has three victories over Ravenwood, the opponent it will face in Saturday’s state championship match.
The Bruins spent more time in Maryville’s defensive third than Maryville spent in theirs, but they didn’t get there through conventional methods. Players who tried to dribble through the wettest spots often over ran the ball because it got stuck in water. Players who tried to play simple grounded passes often had then intercepted because the passes wouldn’t go that far.
Freshman winger Kayla Barr, perhaps Maryville’s best attacking threat, had her elite speed neutralized even in instances when she beat the right back and got into the open field because it was too easy for the closest centerback to chase down the slow-moving ball.
“The field killed us, and it’s really hard for me to say that,” Maryville coach Steve Feather said. “The conditions were a sloppy mess. I’m not saying that you don’t tip your hat to Brentwood, but balls bouncing around in our box that we would clean up easily in the second half we couldn’t get our foot on it. We couldn’t get our hands on it. It was just a mess.”
As bad as the first half was, there was discussion of moving the second half to a different field in the complex. The TSSAA decided not to move it, assistant executive director Mark Reeves said, because the other fields that had not been played on Thursday were in as bad a shape as the one Maryville and Brentwood had already played on for 40 minutes.
Once the game reached halftime, Reeves added, if it had been suspended it would have counted as a complete game, and Brentwood would have been declared the winner.
Before the game consideration was given to moving to another day, but that may have required flipping a coin and playing at Maryville or Brentwood next week. Anything beyond playing the full game Thursday would have been unprecedented, he said.
“We walked those fields while that first half was being played,” Reeves said. “There was a lot of water. It is a very, very difficult situation any way you look at it. The fact is we just don’t have viable options. The field conditions according to those who are here every day would not improve if we pushed those games to (Friday) because they are simply saturated and have had so much rain. You didn’t have an improvement if you pushed those.”
The rain may have dampened the game and aided a lopsided final score, but McKinnis said it won’t dampen the spirits of the seniors who have accomplished so much during their careers. Those players — McKinnis, Ella McCallum, Grayson Patterson, Audrey Lovin, Arianna Whitehead, Katie Cunningham and Reyna Coston — were part of a group that qualified for the state tournament three times in four seasons.
Wednesday’s victory over Science Hill in the quarterfinals was the second time the Lady Rebels have won a game on the state’s biggest stage.
“This game was a fluke,” McKinnis said. “Any other condition it would have been a little bit closer. Our program has grown a lot recently. This doesn’t define our season.”