JACKSON — For the first time in program history, the Rock Springs High School girls soccer team won its opening round of the state tournament.
On Thursday, the Tigers started the tournament with a commanding 4-0 win over Cheyenne East High School. Going into the match, the Thunderbirds were the No. 3 team out of the Eastern Conference, but Rock Springs had zero difficulties getting the win.
The Tigers scored three goals in the first half and added another one early in the second. Cheyenne East tried to counter, but the Rock Springs defense played lights out and slammed the door shut for another shutout.
Right from the first half whistle, Rock Springs set the tone. Just over seven minutes into the match, Emily Taucher found Olivia Politi for the game’s first goal. Taucher saw Politi making a strong run down the sidelines, and Politi delivered a perfect shot into the upper-left corner of the net.
Over the next 15 minutes, Cheyenne East tried to switch the momentum of the game, but the Tigers remained in full control. With just over 15 minutes remaining in the half, junior captain Alyssa Bedard was stopped short on a breakaway after the the Thunderbirds’ goalkeeper raced out of the box to make the save.
Rock Springs continued to hit the gas pedal, and with just over six minutes remaining Liliana Hernandez found Karli Nelson for another goal. The senior midfielder delivered a perfect pass over the top of the defense. After a strong run down the middle, Nelson reeled in the pass and buried the shot to give her team a 2-0 lead.
With time winding down, Cheyenne East tried to get its offense going again. However, no matter what the Thunderbirds offense tried to brew up, the Tigers defense had an answer for it. This allowed the Tigers to keep the ball pinned inside Cheyenne East’s defensive zone.
With just over three minutes remaining in the first, Kylee Knudsen delivered a perfect corner kick inside the goal box. Bedard raced in for the header, but the junior captain deflected the ball over the crossbar and out of play.
Over the next two minutes, Rock Springs peppered Cheyenne East’s goalkeeper. After a few scoring attempts, Politi found Bedard for the third goal with just over one minute remaining. After running down the sidelines, Politi delivered a cross into the box. Bedard saw the play developing and raced into the box to volley the ball into the back of the net.
Rock Springs entered the break with a 3-0 lead and never lost sight of the finish line.
Just like in the first half, the Tigers came out ready to play in the second. It only took Rock Springs seven minutes before Bedard scored her second-straight goal. After setting up shop right on top of the 18-yard box, Taucher found Bedard wide open in the middle for the final goal. Cheyenne East’s goalkeeper tried to make the save, but by the time she could even react, the ball was already off Bedard’s foot and across the goal line.
Over the next 30 minutes, Cheyenne East did everything it could to counter, but the Tigers defense rarely allowed the ball to cross half field. Between the defense playing at a high level and RSHS goalkeeper Alex Moeller having another strong day in net, the Thunderbirds only pieced together one solid scoring chance in 80 minutes. Even though the Tigers stopped scoring after four goals, Rock Springs pieced together four more quality chances and closed out the match with another strong statement.
In the end, the Tigers celebrated a 4-0 win and will now move into the semifinals with a perfect record of 19-0.
This is the first time in program history that the RSHS girls have won in the quarterfinals at the state tournament. As for head coach Stephen Pyer, he couldn’t be more happier about Thursday’s result.
“It’s very pleasing,” Pyer said. “ Today was a great win for us and it feels good to be a part of history.”
Over the last few years, the Tigers have gone into the state tournament with a great regular-season record but could never get over the hump of the first round at state.
“We finally got that monkey off of our back today and now we can finally breath again and prepare for our next game.”
Up next, the No. 1-ranked Tigers will take on Thunder Basin High School in the semifinals on Friday, May 17, with a trip to the state championship on the line. Kickoff for this game is set for 9 a.m.
Thunder Basin is ranked No. 2 in the East, but Pyer believes his team has what it takes to come out on top.
“Moving forward, the competition is only going to get tougher,” Pyer said. “If we can keep our intensity at a high level like we did today, I like our chances against anyone we go up against.”