Winning a championship at any level of competition is difficult.
It not only takes skill and hours upon hours of practice, it takes a complete buy-in, a team-first approach, and flawless execution in a contest’s most crucial moments.
That’s what makes what Eastbrook accomplished on Saturday afternoon at Blackford High School so special.
Behind strong performances from Johwen McKim and Sarah Foulk, compared with outstanding soccer at all levels of the pitch, the Panthers collected their fourth straight sectional championship, defeating the Manchester Squires 3-0.
McKim scored twice, both coming off assists from Foulk, while Eastbrook’s midfield and defense did an outstanding job of locking down Manchester star Emma Garriott, making her a non-factor in the contest.
“I was nervous coming into the game because of her. She’s an incredible player,” Eastbrook Head Coach Jamie Hallis said. “That’s what we talked about in our preparations for today was how we were going to handle her. She scored pretty easily on us when we played them during the season, so we knew we needed to watch her, but my defense did a very good job. I felt that they held her very well.”
After an even opening 10 minutes, along with withstanding a few strong Manchester scoring opportunities, the Panthers found their groove, keeping the pressure on the red Squire defense while locking down in the middle of the pitch and on the back end.
“A lot of that is because of that is because of our midfield,” Hallis said. “The beginning of the game, when we were a little shaky, our midfield was trying to work themselves out. Once we got the midfield set, I think we were good to go.”
Offensively, the Panthers began to attack the gaps in Manchester’s defensive formation, and with 24:22 remaining in the opening half, they finally broke through. After collecting the ball at midfield, Foulk laid a perfect, overhead pass right to the feet of McKim. Seconds later, McKim fired the ball past Manchester goalkeeper Kindra Stetzel and into the back of the net, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.
“Jo and Sarah combine very well,” Hallis said. “I love Sarah in the middle, and Jo is doing a really good job learning how to receive those balls and take those shots. She did a great job finishing today.”
From that moment on, the Panthers took control of the contest, firing on all cylinders.
With the midfield locked down, Eastbrook controlled possession on the Manchester side of the pitch for the remainder of the first half. In the process, the Panthers doubled their lead, as Foulk found space in front of the Manchester net and capitalized on the opportunity with 11:20 remaining in the first half.
The Squires recorded several high-quality opportunities in the first half, recording six shots on target, but Gabby Scott, as always, was a brick wall, making five saves to keep Manchester off the scoreboard.
Armed with all the momentum, the Panthers dominated the second half of play, outshooting the Squires 9-1 and not allowing them to re-establish any sort of rhythm offensively.
McKim scored her second goal of the contest in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, providing all the cushion that Eastbrook needed the rest of the way.
Despite still being a young program, one that is less than 10 years old, the Panthers have achieved the kind of success that many others dream of. Eastbrook’s core – of Foulk, Scott, Naomi Diller, and Rachel Manning – have been major keys in the Panthers’ success over the last four years, and their dedication to the Eastbrook soccer program has made the team into a consistent winner.
Now, the Panthers are looking to keep it going next week in the regional round.
“I’m feeling that pride for those four girls that have worked so hard to continue to improve the soccer program here,” Hallis said. “They want it, and they deserve that win.”
Eastbrook will begin the regional playoff against Tipton this coming Saturday at Northwestern beginning at 12 pm.