By MATT KOESTERS
The trophy cases in the halls of Our Lady of Providence speak to a rich history of athletic achievement.
Over the years, the Pioneers have won sectional and regional championships in nearly every conceivable team sport recognized by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. But since Providence was first founded 60 years ago, one achievement has eluded the school’s sports teams — a state championship.
The Class A No. 1 Providence girls’ soccer team earned the first state crown in school history on Saturday at Kuntz Stadium when it defeated Class A No. 5 Mishawaka Marian on penalty kicks, 3-1, after dueling to a scoreless tie through 94 minutes of play.
“This is the best moment of my life,” Providence junior defender Leah Mattingly said. “I feel so high on life right now. I’m on Cloud 9. It’s amazing.”
With Providence (21-0-2) shooting first in the PK decider, Kasey Wallace, Kelsey Rogers and Casey Marlin were each able to get past Marian goalkeeper Makaela Douglas, and the Knights (18-3-1) were unable to get an accurate bead on the goal, with their first one ricocheting off the right post and two more sailing over the crossbar.
“I was praying the Hail Mary,” Providence keeper Autumn Meyer said. “That was definitely a sign that God is great and helped me through that. It was intense.”
“I felt like we had the best keeper. I honestly felt that,” Providence coach Dave Smith said. “No knock on them. Their girl was rangy, but I don’t think she has the feet that our keeper had. Our keeper is outstanding.
“We shoot PKs on her all the time and she’s just a beast in the goal. She lays out her body. The ground could be hard as a rock, and she’s diving and smashing her body against the ground. She’s just amazing. I felt really good, really good going into PKs.”
Meyer allowed just one penalty kick to get past her, a low dribbler by Marian freshman D.J. Veldman that snuck under the Pioneer keeper as she dove in the correct direction.
“She made the right dive. She read the play correctly,” Smith said. “It was a nice shot. It was nice and low. Those are the hardest ones to get to.”
“I was upset because I got there,” Meyer said. “I just should have put my hand down and I could have cleared it. It was a good shot and, what can you do?”
Providence dominated possession for much of the first half and outshot the Knights, 8-1. However, of those eight shots, only three required the attention of Douglas. The Marian defense was swift in pursuit and deprived the Pioneers of the time they needed to set up an effective attack.
The Knights had Providence well-scouted, and constantly ensured that Marlin, the Pioneers’ all-time leading scorer, was marked by at least two players.
“They were on me the whole time,” Marlin said. “It sort of got to me mentally. I was getting real angry, but I tried to deal with it the best I could.”
“They were giving Casey a lot of attention, which they should. That’s a smart team,” Smith said. “Casey’s an explosive player and she would like to have had a little more time and space with the ball. It was just the right thing for Marian to do.
“We really didn’t have any design to bust her free. When they’ve got three people on you, they’ve got three people on you. But she still got to the ball enough. She had a lot of touches, and maybe more distribution than shots. But she was still effective, I thought.”
With Marlin marked, the Pioneers had to rely on other players for offense. Because of the attention being drawn by Marlin and fellow forward Sarah Posante, Wallace was able to advance the ball with relative ease and made four shots in the contest.
“I call her ‘Special K,’” Smith said. “She is a sophomore. She’s going to be one of the best players in the state before she’s done. Her battery was a little low today. I’m not sure why, but it was an intense game. She had to cover a lot of ground. There was a lot of back and forth.”
Despite some exhaustion, Wallace nearly gave her team a major spark about midway through the first seven-minute overtime period. Recovering the ball on a long rebound, Wallace took a shot from about 20 yards out that Douglas had trouble handling. The ball hit the ground and Douglas laid prone, looking defeated. But there was no whistle, and Douglas recovered to gather in the ball.
“The way she reacted, it looked like, ‘Uh-oh. I made a mistake. They scored,’” Smith said. “But the way she paused and sort of dropped her head — my guess is one of the teammates said, ‘Kick it out.’ She deflated, and then she energized and kicked the ball out.”
Of the 20 total shots Providence took during the contest, only seven were shots on goal.
“There wasn’t much. There were so many people packed in the center,” Wallace said. “You just had to do what you could.”
But once again, Providence’s defense was on point throughout the contest. “Brick Force” allowed just six shots and Meyer needed to save just three shots on goal in the contest. It was the Pioneers’ 12th consecutive shutout.
“We take such pride in our entire team, and not just our defense,” Mattingly said. “But our defense was solid this entire year. We went through this entire journey, we went through the entire tournament undefeated. And that was our goal — defense. We do not want to get a goal scored on us. We wanted to have a shutout throughout the entire thing. That’s what we did.”
Now that the Pioneers have earned the ultimate prize, they can finally reflect on their accomplishments.
“The greatest thing is, the girls — no one can ever take that away from them,” Smith said. “That is a little gold nugget in their hearts. No matter what happens in life, good, bad, tough breaks, no one can ever take this away from them. Medals are fine. Trophies are fine. But it’s the feeling that they had today and when they go back to their school, and everyone is going to be so thankful.
“Sixty years. Providence has been around for 60 years and all those hard-working ballplayers and all the different activities. Some of them are in their 70s now, and no one has ever accomplished this. We’ve knocked down the wall and we’ll have a couple more, sooner than later in other sports.”
“I can’t even describe it. I feel fantastic. This is amazing,” Marlin said.