HS Girls Soccer Playoffs: The Road Ends For the Lady Highlanders in Heartbreaking Defeat to Klein

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 03/28/2024


TOMBALL, TX -- The Woodlands Lady Highlanders (16-6-3) fell in the Area Round of the state playoffs to the Klien Lady Bearkats (16-7-3) in a devastating 2-1 loss.

It took little time for the Lady Bearkats to establish their tempo for the game, as Klein’s dominating pressure controlled the moments following the opening kick.

A persistent on-ball pressure from Klein defenders put an early emphasis on clean passes from the Lady Highlanders to keep the Lady Bearkats from getting easy counters.

But in the game's early moments, the Lady Highlanders had yet to get a feel for their opponent in action—this lack of early understanding afforded Klein multiple opportunities to creep near goal before striking with ruthless accuracy.

A Lady Bearkat cross in the fourth minute and a free kick in the fifteenth was all the warning The Woodlands got before the seam finally burst. A pin-point accurate through ball set up a cross-goal pass on the foot of Samantha Stephens for the game’s opening goal.

The goal came in sixteen minutes of play and demonstrated the speed the Lady Bearkats possessed. While sudden, the overall pace of Klein was something the Highlander coaches were expecting.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Lady Highlander Head Coach Claire Eiteljorge spoke on the understanding of her opponent.

“I wasn’t surprised when they scored because we knew their offense was talented,” said Eiteljorge. “I was hoping that, even with us making a few errors, we would be able to respond.”

The Lady Highlanders ramped up their trotting offense that built up their attacks into a style that attempted to capitalize on counterattacks through dispossession.

Forceful contact to Klein players gave The Woodlands a handful of chances to generate attack, but a rigid defense and frequent calls from the officials gave the ball right back to the Lady Bearkats.

However, brief glimpses of offensive momentum came to fruition for the Lady Highlanders as the half continued.

Several looks at goal from set pieces gave the Lady Highlander attackers their best chances to find the back of the net before halftime. Most notable were back-to-back attempts at goal from corners that resulted in a swift punch-out from Klein keeper Madelyn Shipley.

Shipley’s effort, along with the work put in by her backline gave the Lady Bearkats a 1-0 lead going into the half. The situation was not fully desperate for the Lady Highlanders yet, as a composed team attempted to rekindle its fire coming out of the break.

“The girls were pretty positive at half,” said Eiteljorge. “They were just hoping that our second half was going to be the turnaround we needed.”

Unfortunately for the Lady Highlanders, their situation would only become more desperate throughout the second half.

A flurry of shots on goal from The Woodlands gave fuel to the fire that a comeback was possible, but no attempts at a tie found their mark.

Headers, crosses, and free kicks were all turned away by a continued goalkeeping clinic posted by Shipley.

Frustrated Woodlands attackers continued to pepper the goal with withering firepower, but in their over extent to try tying the game, the defense was caught flatfooted by Klein’s counterattacks.

Blazing quick feet from Klein’s Maria Swanson intercepted a pass and worked down the right side of the field for a cross toward a waiting teammate. Olivia Knight waited patiently for the ball to land in her possession before striking another goal for the Lady Bearkats to mark a 2-0 advantage.

The already high-paced Lady Highlanders were forced to further ramp up their production.

Fast runs to the outside of the penalty box led to more crosses for attempted headers, and set pieces continued to bounce Klein’s way in desperate, last-ditch attempts at scoring.

With less than five minutes remaining, a lob pass was veered toward the Klien goal in what seemed to be a routine catch for the steady-handed Shipley. But a misread bounce and a tap-in from Piper Harborth gave The Woodlands a slight chance at forcing a tie before time expired.

A quick kickoff and late corner would have tied the game, but a final stand from the battered Klein defense stood strong and delivered a 2-1 defeat to the Lady Highlander to end their season.

A bitter defeat sends 17 Lady Highlander seniors into their next journey, while the remaining squad tries to find a way to recapture the same momentum going into the next season.

“We have a lot of those starting players as young bodies,” said Eiteljorge. “But we’re going to miss those senior leaders next year.”

The road ends for the Lady Highlanders, but a district championship and a memorable ride throughout the season provide hopeful aspirations for next year’s squad.

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