In the end, though, it didn’t matter.
The Lady Hoyas have their second state championship in four years.
After Grayson struck first late in the first half, Harrison bounced back with two goals early in the second half and held on to win 2-1 in Saturday’s Class AAAAAA state championship at Kennesaw State’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
With the win, the bittersweet aftertaste the Lady Hoyas had of losing last year’s state final to Parkview in penalty kicks is gone.
“It was a great win for us (Saturday),” midfielder Lizzy Sieracki said. “After losing last year, this was a comeback for us. We are so proud.”
Audrey Tanner and Treva Aycock scored Harrison’s goals, with Carly Rich providing the assists.
Harrison (22-0) came into Saturday’s game ranked No. 12 nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association. The Lady Hoyas had just recorded their 16th straight shutout with a 4-0 win over Parkview in the semifinals, and they hadn’t given up a goal since East Coweta scored on them March 4.
Grayson (21-1-1) finally broke through with 7:16 left to play in the first half.
Harrison defender Katlyn Kauffman attempted to clear the ball with a hard kick toward the midfield, but it was blocked by Grayson’s Jennifer Westendorf, who then found an open shot from outside the penalty box. Her shot bounced off the hands of diving goalkeeper Allison Leone and the ball trickled into the left corner of the net.
In response to having just getting scored on, Harrison’s players grabbed the ball out of the goal, sprinted toward the middle of the field and resumed play in a matter of seconds.
This was also the first time Harrison had trailed in a game all season. Even after Grayson scored, the Lady Rams kept applying pressure, taking three more shots before the first half expired.
“We wanted to have a positive attitude after (Grayson) scored, and they did a really good job,” Harrison coach Steve Riccard said. “They were venting, showing frustration (at halftime). They knew they weren’t playing their best. We played well for the first 10 minutes of the game, and then their physicality started overwhelming us.”
Riccard said Harrison’s second-half objective was to kick the ball wide and feed it into the box. Both of the Lady Hoyas’ goals were scored from inside the box on crosses coming from the right side.
Tanner provided the equalizer in the third minute of the second half, on a feed from Rich. Almost 9 minutes later, Aycock tapped in a goal on a pass from Rich from the right side.
Harrison had more success controlling the ball during the early portions of the second half. The Lady Hoyas nearly got an insurance goal when goalkeeper Cadye Picklesimer blocked a Sieracki shot, but Savannah Vanderbeck didn’t get there in time to finish the loose ball.
Grayson had its scoring opportunities in the final 20 minutes of the game, but Harrison’s second-half goalkeeper, Kelsey Daugherty, came through with some remarkable saves.
One came on a steep angled corner kick by Westendorf that Daugherty had to leap to grab. She also made a diving save to slap away a shot by Ella Stevenson with less than 3 minutes to play.
Daugherty’s biggest save came with 30 seconds left, when she caught a free kick attempt by Westendorf.
“It was crazy,” the UAB signee said when asked about her final save. “I had to make sure the front post was covered and only had to worry about the back post.”