Photos courtesy of Bill Birnie/NWA Democrat-Gazette
FAYETTEVILLE — Hadley Dickinson scored the only goal of the game with 4:32 left in regulation as the Bryant Lady Hornets captured the 2015 Class 7A State Tournament championship today, with a 1-0 win over the Fayetteville Lady Bulldogs at Razorback Field.
Anna Lowery got deep into the Fayetteville defense, drew its attention and dropped the ball off to Dickinson, who got the angle on the Fayetteville keeper and banged it home.
Fayetteville finished with a flurry but the Lady Hornets’ defense including keeper Maddie Hawkins, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, denied them repeatedly as time — which wasn’t showing on the broken scoreboard — eventually expired and the Lady Hornets celebrated the first State title for the Bryant program.
“It means a lot,” stated Bryant coach Julie Long. “It means a lot to this program, the alums before this group. To me, it’s about the girls and the program they’ve built. It’s huge. This is for all the alumni that went through the stuff I put them through. Those girls, right there, they’ve worked their butts off to get it. But I felt like last year’s kind of paved the way, getting us there so we’d believe that we could do it.”
Last year, Bryant reached the championship only to suffer the team’s first loss of the season, a 3-2 heartbreaker against Bentonville. To get back to the title game, they had to defeat Bentonville in the semifinals and got it done.
Long had already taken the Bryant program to new heights and now to a State championship.
“It’s the first time it’s ever happened at Bryant and I feel like it’s just going to open up more doors for us,” she related.
Fayetteville, a two seed behind Bentonville the top seed in the West, battled the Lady Hornets, particularly on defense. The Lady Bulldogs didn’t manage very many shots, however and, of those, Hawkins saved two, after saving seven against Bentonville.
Bryant couldn’t get a shot to go in and the Fayetteville keeper, Gracie Cape, saved a couple.
Finally, Dickinson found the mark with time running out.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said. “It was a left-footed shot and I’m not a left-footed player so I was really surprised. But I knew I had to put it in the back of the net for our team to win.
“All their defense was packed in back,” she added. “I just 1-2’d it with Anna and we got it.”
The play came moments after a shot by Caroline Campbell had been blocked but the Lady Hornets did a good job of retaining possession, setting up the goal.
“It feels amazing,” Dickinson said of winning the championship. “To come back and win it with my team is the best feeling ever.”
“We had some chances we missed early and we knew if we just kept doing what we were doing, they would come,” Long said. “Hadley obviously stepped up huge. Everybody stepped up. It was a team effort.”
It was a frustrating first half for Bryant. Just under 25 minutes left before halftime, Dicksonson drove the ball into the box but was tripped but nothing was called. Later, at about the 19-minute mark, the Lady Hornets rushed up the field and wound up with a 3 on 3. A rushed shot went wide.
“I think the nerves probably got the best of us,” Long said. “We were pretty nervous coming out. It just looked like we were moving in slow motion. I think it was just the nerves.”
At halftime, she related, “I just told them, ‘Let’s just have fun for the last 40 minutes. You guys have done all the work you could do to get yourselves here.’ I said, ‘For 40 minutes, let’s just have some fun. I just want to see my team out there.’”
And the team seemed quicker and more aggressive after that.
“I just felt like our whole plan this week was to play our game, our passing game, and I really don’t think we did it,” Long observed. “But the girls did what they needed to do to get the job done.”