Needing a win at Riverton Friday to punch their ticket to state, the Powell High School girls’ soccer team instead saw their season come to a close with a 6-1 loss.
But in their final home game of the season Thursday against Lander, the Lady Panthers honored their seniors with an emotional, come-from-behind, 2-1 win. Knotted at 1-1 with just 11 seconds left in regulation, senior Jaya Smith — who missed the previous three games due to injury — capped off her final home game by scoring the game winner.
“The girls came together against Lander and played to the very end,” said PHS head coach Jack Haire. “It was fun to be a part of and watch. That last 11 seconds I think they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”
The two teams met just six days earlier at Lander, with the Lady Tigers coming out on top 3-1. Both Powell (4-9-2, 3-6-1 in the 3A West) and Lander (8-8, 4-6 in the 3A West) came out firing to start the rematch. Lander took a 1-0 lead on a penalty kick in the 35th minute. During the break, Haire said the Lady Panthers knew they were still in the contest.
“We knew we could compete with them,” he said. “We knew if we could play a complete game with them, we had a chance. A loss or a tie would have knocked us out immediately. At halftime, we told the girls we wanted them clear, confident and unafraid.”
A fired up Powell squad moved the ball well and created opportunities in the second half. Wanting to make their final game on their home field a memorable one, seniors Sadie Wenzel, Jaighden Rayment and Jalie Timmons were stifling on defense, while first-year keeper Mattie Larsen had several key saves. Michele Wagner finally got the Lady Panthers on the board 10 minutes into the second frame, showing a touch with the ball Haire said has become almost routine for the junior.
“Michele [Wagner] has a beautiful touch; she’s so gifted with the ball,” he said. “She’s a game changer, and she’s one of the players we challenged at halftime to step up. The team needed her to step up, and she absolutely did.”
The two teams continued to battle, with neither able to gain an advantage. But just as it appeared the game was headed to overtime, Malia Hedges ran down a loose ball near the sidelines and lobbed it toward Lander’s net.
“A senior, of course, is the one who looked up at the clock and says, ‘Wow, I gotta do something,’” Haire said. “Lander looked like they thought the game was over; the keeper was so far out of position, I think she thought the ball was just gonna roll through. And here comes speedy little Jaya Smith with the perfect touch, right over the keeper’s head. It was so cool. It was awesome to watch, and awesome to be a part of.”
Showing his superstitious side, Haire said the numbers of Smith’s goal lined up perfectly.
“The score was 1-1, there was 11 seconds on the clock and No. 11 scored the winning goal,” he said, laughing. “The team wanted to make sure I got that in there.”
Following the game, the Lady Panthers honored its seniors: Smith, Timmons, Wenzel, Jaclyn Haire, Jaighden Rayment, Cierra Bridges, Lucy Sullivan, Rylee Moore and Shaelynn Theriault. It was a fitting end for a team that had faced its share of adversity during the season.
“To end our season at home on a winning note like that, it was extremely special,” Haire said. “Every player on our team will remember that game, and probably every parent and fan that was in the stands. It was just cool. It was fun, under the lights — the whole thing was just really neat.”
With the win against Lander, Powell found itself with a shot at a state tournament berth in the final game of the regular season. Standing in their way was Riverton (9-6, 7-3 in the 3A West), a team that won the previous meeting 2-1 back in April. Although they’d locked up the No. 2 seed in the 3A West heading into state, the Lady Wolverines were not content to rest on their accomplishments. Riverton scored three goals in the first half en route to a decisive 6-1 win, ending the Lady Panthers’ season. The loss allowed Lander to grab the west’s No. 4 seed for this week’s state tournament in Jackson.
Jordan Woodford was the bright spot for the Lady Panthers, spoiling the shutout late in the second half for Powell’s lone score. Wagner, one of the heroes in the Lander game, was unable to make the trip, leaving some big shoes to fill.
“We didn’t have anyone to replace her well enough to hold that middle position,” coach Haire said. “And Riverton’s good — they’re second place for a reason.”
The lopsided score allowed Haire to play some of his subs, including backup keeper Rylee Moore, making her first appearance of the season. Starting keeper Larsen moved to forward and made an immediate impact, assisting on Woodford’s goal.
“She [Larsen] is a good field player; she’s aggressive,” Haire said. “And she ended up with 15 saves when she was in net.”
With the season officially in the books, Haire said the scene after the game was emotional on a few levels, most notably as he said goodbye to his seniors. The Lady Panthers finished 2-2-1 in the final five games of the season, and Haire credits his seniors for helping the team finish strong.
“These seniors have impacted my life over the last six or seven years, and I’m going to miss them,” he said. “I wanted to let them know that the game of soccer is a silly game, and through it, we can learn to be unselfish, we can learn how to encourage and we can learn how to persevere. If they can remember the good times and push through the bad times, they’re going to be wonderful ladies.”