CONWAY — A goal each half was more than enough for Harding Academy as the Lady Wildcats shutout Robinson 2-0 to secure the 4A state soccer championship Friday morning at Estes Stadium.
The Lady Wildcats (19-0) took the early lead off a successful penalty kick from junior striker Khloe Fullerton, and got their insurance goal early in the second half when senior Anna Snow easily beat Robinson’s goalkeeper from the right side in the 44th minute for the last score of the contest. Snow was awarded the game’s Most Valuable Player in her final game as a Lady Wildcat. It was Harding Academy’s third-consecutive state championship, and the first at the 4A Classification.
The first two regular-season conference games between the two clubs were noted for their physicality, and the third matchup surpassed both of them with an unusually-high number of knock downs and free kicks throughout the contest.
“It was super physical,” Lady Wildcats coach Angie Harlow said. “Our girls just hung in there. Our thing coming into this was ‘don’t let them get to you, you go and play your game.’ We play Wildcats soccer, and that’s what they came out and did. I thought they held their poise very well, and they were just amazing today.”
Possession came and went for the most part with neither team gaining any kind of long-term control of the ball, which left it to the midfielders to play out much of the match. That resulted in some full-on handsy play from both teams, with more knockdowns than an MMA fight.
Sophomore goalkeeper Krimson Fager was rarely challenged with any breakaways against Robinson or anyone else over the course of the Lady ‘Cats’ four-game tourney run, but the few times she was called upon, the three-sport athlete answered those calls in her first year as a keeper.
“She hasn’t been tested much this year, so all the games against Joe T., she’s really been tested,” Harlow said. “She’s just done a good job. She’s learning. She’s just one of those girls who will go out on the field herself and work.”
The Lady Wildcats’ trio of championships is just one of three success stories in the city of Searcy with the success from the Searcy High School Lady Lions and their title runs, as well as the emergence of the Riverview Lady Raiders soccer team, who run through their conference undefeated into the quarterfinal round of their state tourney this season. Harlow credits the youth soccer program in Searcy, one of the best in this part of the country.
“It’s good; it’s getting them prepared,” Harlow said. “Some of these girls, I’ve coached in the youth program since they were five. It’s a good program; we have a really good club program. They have different levels, and it just gives our girls a lot of opportunity.”
Freshman Claire Citty may not have come away with a score in the defensive struggle, but the shifty forward broke free more than anyone else, and came close on a couple of occasions at the 17:35 mark of the first half, and had a great look at the 48th minute that the Senators keeper was barely able to contain. Junior Jama Akpanudo almost made the score 3-0 late with a strong shot directly in front of the keeper, but she did not have room to get the proper bend, and the ball went just over the goal.
“Honestly, these girls play two, three sports,” Harlow said. “Harding Academy, we’re a 2A school playing in 4A, so our girls play a lot of things. They play with a lot of heart, they play with a lot of discipline, and they are hard workers. We just have a lot of heart for this sport.”
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