The Sylvan Hills girls’ soccer team made school history this week in the class 5A state tournament. The Lady Bears beat White Hall 1-0 on Thursday and Morrilton 3-0 on Friday to become the first SHHS soccer team, boys or girls, to advance to the semifinals of the state tournament.
“We are just overjoyed,” said Sylvan Hills coach Nate Persson. “To do something that’s never been done at our school is a great accomplishment. I just couldn’t be more proud of these girls.”
The two wins earn the Lady Bears a semifinal date with tournament favorite and host Harrison. The Lady Goblins beat Little Rock Christian 1-0 on Friday, a team that beat Sylvan Hills twice this year.
“We know the odds are long,” Persson said. “Harrison was really considered the favorite coming into the tournament, and we’re playing on their home field, but we’re not giving in just yet. We have a game plan and we’re going to go out and do everything we can to make it work.”
Part of that game plan was implemented when Sylvan Hills surprisingly took early command in the quarterfinal match against the Lady Devil Dogs. Morrilton entered the tournament as a four seed from the West Conference, but knocked off East champion Nettleton to earn the date with Sylvan Hills.
The Lady Bears scored all three goals in the first half, and Persson focused entirely on defense in the second half.
“My heart said to go out and keep trying to score, but my mind said we need to rest our players,” Persson said. “Harrison and Little Rock Christian were really beating up on each other out there, so I thought our best chance was to be as fresh as possible.”
Sylvan Hills scored less than five minutes into the game when senior Liberty University signee Abby Persson scored on a deception play off a corner kick.
Gracie Persson ran out to the corner kicker with a defender, and feigned calling off the play. The Morrilton defender left her alone and she received the pass. Gracie Persson charged the baseline towards the goal and drew several Morrilton defenders, leaving Abby Persson all alone in front of the goal. She took the pass and scored easily.
“We have worked on that play for two months and it never worked,” Nate Persson said. “We were very pleased with how well it worked today.”
Abby Persson scored the other two goals as well, and scored the game’s lone goal in the first round against White Hall.
This year marked the fourth-straight that Sylvan Hills and White Hall girls have met, and the Lady Bulldogs proved a tougher out this year than in most.
After the early goal, White Hall double and triple teamed Abby Persson and was very physical.
“They had a good game plan,” Nate Persson said. “I give them credit for doing what they felt they needed to do. Abby got a little frustrated with the officiating. They were pretty rough with her. But that’s part of the game. We survived it and went on for another win.”