Even in the immediate wake of a wrenching 3-2 loss to Aledo in a Class 5A girls semifinal at the UIL soccer championships, Rouse’s players and coaches had an appreciation for the moment.
The Raiders knew they had made history by reaching the state tournament for the first time. Better yet, they played an energetic and entertaining match Thursday against a gifted Aledo side with all their teammates on hand at Birkelbach Field.
The presence of junior Julia Loza and sophomore Megan Olds, two vital starters for the Raiders, wasn’t a given considering both had suffered significant injuries. Loza displayed concussion-like symptoms after a forceful collision last weekend during the 5A, Region III tournament in Humble, and Olds went down in the first half of the state semifinal, felled by a severe leg injury.
But Loza, who had an overnight hospital stay last weekend, watched the Raiders’ final match of 2017 from the sidelines in street clothes, and Olds hobbled out of the locker room at halftime, sporting crutches and an air cast. The Raiders greeted her with a series of hugs and a few tears and then returned to the grueling task of slowing Aledo’s explosive attack.
“We were heartbroken for Julia,” Rouse senior forward Haley Hoppe said after the match. “We were sad, and it just sucked that she couldn’t take the field with us. But we played for her, and then we played for Megan. They couldn’t be out there for us, so we had to play for them.”
For much of the match, Rouse (20-2-4) did just enough to keep Aledo at bay. Two beautiful free kicks by the Raiders — one by Abby Schraeder, the other by Abby Forster — gave Rouse a 2-1 lead with 13 minutes to play in the match.
But Aledo’s high-scoring striker Peyton Laughley evened the score with a 25-yard rocket in the 67th minute. It was her second goal of the match and her 31st of the season.
Aledo, which had 20 shots on goal, kept up its assault in extra time, but the Bearcats didn’t break through Rouse’s defense until Cameron Huddleston scored on a free kick in the 96th minute. The Bearcats (22-3-3) will face undefeated Highland Park in the Class 5A girls final.
“We made history, and we set a new standard for our girls sports and the (Rouse) soccer program,” said Raiders first-year coach Katie Kistner. “I’m so proud of them, and we can’t be disappointed. Playing here at state? We were playing with house money.”
While Aledo created most of its chances in the run of play, Rouse relied on set pieces. That approach paid off in the 23rd minute, when Schraeder launched a beautiful free kick from 45 yards out that dropped between the goal post and the outstretched fingers of Aledo keeper Makenzie Covington.
Six of Rouse’s nine shots on goal came off corner kicks or free kicks, and the Raiders’ second goal occurred when Forster launched a 25-yard ball that also dipped just under the crossbar in the 59th minute. The Raiders then began packing their defense, even bringing star striker Hoppe, who scored a single-season school record 35 goals, to the back row.
But Aledo wouldn’t be denied its first trip to a state final.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more, especially in my senior season,” said Hoppe, who has signed with Northern Illinois. “It was such a great opportunity to play here. This team is just so talented; I’m so blessed to play with them.”