For T-Wolves, falling short a tribute to all they'd already done
Trying to win their third straight state title, the Norman North girls played until they had nothing left
Note: The columns I write each Saturday at OklahomaColumnist also appear in the Sunday edition of The Norman Transcript. This is my entry from another State Championship Saturday.
OKLAHOMA CITY — As time ran out on the Norman North girls early Saturday afternoon at Taft Stadium, as regulation drew to a close, as each overtime period became exhausted, as the penalty kicks commenced, you could see it.
Forever, they’d given all they had for the cause until, finally, the tank ran dry.
“I thought it was sloppy for both groups,” coach Trevor Laffoon said. “I don’t think it was a good game, to be honest, for either team.”
Later, he added, “I think the energy level was a little lower than I would have liked, and I think the girls would have liked, but you know …”
The thought ended.
He wasn’t wrong.
Neither Deer Creek nor North put a whole lot together for a 100 minutes of soccer, all of it a prelude to the most lopsided of shootouts, the Timberwolves missing all four of their chances and the Antlers converting two of three, enough to clinch their 1-0 Class 6A state championship victory.
Yet, Laffoon might have missed, sort of, what appeared to be at hand.
Not just that his team had nothing left, but that the reason it had nothing left was locked up in all that it had already done.
When his seniors were freshmen, North won it all. When they were sophomores, very likely the state’s best team again, the coronavirus pandemic stole their opportunity to repeat. Then, a year ago, they won it all again, not dropping a single game.
If Saturday proved anything, it was how fabulously and horrendously difficult it must have been for the T-Wolves to have come so far already.
Winning a state title is really hard. Winning two straight state titles is really, really hard and winning three straight is still harder.
Go ask anybody who’s done it; presuming you can find them because the list is woefully short.
“I thought we played hard,” Becca Tweety, a senior, said. “I thought we came out strong. I thought we played our hardest.”
Then she said something else.
Having done so much, having created their own expectations and having played under the pressure those expectations create … “It’s a lot to carry with you,” she said.
You know who was carrying nothing with them?
The Deer Creek girls.
You know who else was carrying nothing with them?
The Norman North boys.
History is a propellor.
It also weighs a ton.
The North girls were the best team on the pitch for the majority of Saturday’s contest, but shot advantages, though preferable to shot disadvantages, do not win games.
The two most dangerous players on the field had to be Jada Ryan and Narissa Fults, the first playing for her third state championship and the second for her second. And while they had chances, they weren’t great chances.
The Antlers led the game in frustration delivered, making the T-Wolves their fifth straight shutout victim and their eighth in nine tries.
“We started to panic because we were still in it,” said Hadley Horn, another senior. “It was still like either team’s game.”
It’s a cliché only because it’s true, the underdog has the advantage as long as contest’s even and the North girls haven’t been in that role in a long, long time.
“There was more pressure on us,” Horn said.
Walking into the handshake line, most T-Wolves kept their emotions in check. Half an hour later, walking out of the locker room, more didn’t.
The loss was one thing.
The end of the road was another.
“We’ve all played together forever and we’ve all been best friends and since we’re so close, we have such a special bond that other teams don’t,” said Londyn Furnish, a senior defender. “Things happen, but we’re always there for each other.”
Sports are a a funny thing.
You play to win, but if they don’t teach you how to lose, you’ve wasted your time playing them.
The T-Wolves have lost other games. Two others this season. They probably didn’t need to lose Saturday’s to get the lesson, but they passed the test nonetheless.
That, and they reminded everybody that getting so far, this season and past seasons, no matter how easy they made it look, it never was.
“It just sucked that it ended this way,” said Kendra Hudgins, a senior. “But we still love each other and we put our all into it.”
“We all just wanted it so bad,” said Furnish. “But it’s soccer, it’s gonna happen … I don’t know. We’re lucky to be here.”
Not what they wanted but it was all that they had and it’s hard to ask for any more.
“I’m proud of the girls,” Laffoon said.