Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Mattoon varsity girls soccer coach Ryan Ghere said he spoke all week about the need to beat St. Louis metro east teams in order to earn their respect.

The team had an opportunity to do just that against Civic Memorial in the Mattoon soccer regional championship Friday evening.

Mattoon didn’t just beat Civic Memorial. They dominated them.

In a game challenged by a constant trickle of rain, the Greenwave (23-2-1), with a surgical precision the school has so often succumbed to at the hands of those same Metro East teams, defeated the Eagles, 3-1, to capture the Mattoon regional championship Friday night.

The Mattoon Greenwave pose with the Class 2A girls soccer regional championship trophy after defeating Civic Memorial 3-1 Friday evening.

“If we didn’t do it tonight, I don’t know when we will,” he said. “They took a team that’s pretty high-powered and a girl who’s a goal scorer and didn’t give them any chances.”

It wasn’t so much the Greenwave beat them, it was how they beat Civic Memorial.

Greenwave defenders Gabi Ray, Marley Vanholven, and Kameron Lathrop choked the Eagles attack in the middle, rarely allowing them past midfield — save for a score when Mattoon was caught flatfooted after pressing for a fourth score at the very end.

Belle Shriver and Taylor Kovach, also defended well, denying time and again the Eagles’ attack from the wing.

“They didn’t let 23 (forward Abrianna Garrett) have any room,” Ghere said. “The one time she did have room, Belle came out of nowhere and threw her body on it and deflected it.”

Bella Masse, a sophomore midfielder controlled the middle, getting the ball to junior Piper Sanders and senior Lily Ghere.

Mattoon’s Bella Masse changes directions during the Greenwave’s 3-1 victory over the Eagles in the Class 2A girls soccer regional championship Friday evening.

Ghere’s shot on goal led to the first goal. She drilled a shot that bounced off the post back to Sanders, who quickly deposited it in the back of the net 20 minutes in. The Eagles looked stunned.

“I don’t think they thought they’d come up here and have any idea we’d beat them,” Ryan Ghere said. “I think when we scored it was a bit of a shock. Then when we scored again … that’s why it was so key to get that third before halftime and not give up a goal before the half.”

Lily Ghere regularly sliced through Memorial’s defense from the wing. She sent in a perfect corner kick to Sanders in the box, who headed it past Civic Memorial goalkeeper Sydney Moore for the second goal of the match seven minutes later.

Sanders, looked to her teammates, with a look of ‘I did that?’ and raced into the arms of Lily Ghere.

“Coaching your daughter makes it extra special,” the elder Ghere said. “She’s been a treat to coach, including her friends and teammates.”

Sanders, meanwhile, outhustled the Eagles defense to the ball, especially in the first half.

“I’m feeling pretty happy,” she said. “I feel like this is the best we’ve played. I think we wanted it more than they did.”

The forward, her coach admits, had a rough patch just a week ago, leaving the field unhappy with her play.

“I was just excited that it happened,” she said. “Especially so early on in the game. I knew it was going to be a battle. I just wanted to keep going.”

Sanders scored seven goals in the regional, including five in the semifinals.

“That’s a heck of a regional week to put the ball in the net that many times,” Ryan Ghere said. 

Sanders’s aggressive play led to the third goal. She took a Masse pass and crashed down from the wing before centering the ball in front of the net. Sophomore midfielder Sophia Gerkin, seeing the ball in the middle of a scrum of white and purple jerseys, knocked the ball into the net from just a few yards out with a little over two minutes left in the first half.

Goalkeeper Jess Evans made a big defensive play in the first half, diving to her right to deflect a shot on goal.

“Jess had some good saves,” Ghere said. “The key one in the first half was a diving save after we get a goal lead to keep the momentum.”

What this win means

It was Mattoon, for all of its 22-2-1 record with their only losses coming on the same day at the Urbana tournament on April 1st, giving the comeuppance.

“In warmups, there was such adrenaline, a want to win,” Sanders said. “Everyone did their part and played their role.”

And then there was the coach, Ryan Ghere, sitting on that folding chair on the corner of the bench area eating a candy bar to start the game, quietly observing and reassuring his players – willing them to keep their composure for the inevitable.

Ghere paced more in the last 15 minutes of the match than cumulative of the entire season and, perhaps, several previous combined, admittedly began feeling what could be. 

He asked his players at halftime to mentally divide the second half into ten-minute frames and win each one, one at time. 

Civic Memorial attacked with a give-and-go, rarely seen in the game but standard fare for them, in Mattoon’s back third for the first seven minutes. The Greenwave defense held. The second ten minute period saw the Greenwave counterpunch. Then the third. And the fourth. Time was winding down.

“They came out in the second half with more,” Sanders said. “But honestly, we wanted it more than they were and we were ready to get the regional title.”

The Eagles scored on a breakout from a Greenwave attack that left too many Mattoon players high up the field. 

Too little. Way too late.

“It’s just an amazing group of girls,” the coach said.

He said they have fun and dance and are goofballs.

The elder Ghere opted to go with 5-4-1 formation straying from his norm.

“We played a little more defense, but even though we played defensively we had to have scoring chances,” Ghere said. “I don’t think we did much, but we had to win 50/50 balls. We had to take away their give-n-goes in the middle. We worked on that the last two days. We clogged up the middle and didn’t let them do that. That’s probably the biggest changes on how we defended passes.”

He added: “I thought it was team effort from back to front,” he said. “That’s the best we’ve played all year. That’s what you want.”

Ghere remained on the field with his wife, Lori, and father, Ron, and assistant coach Jason Morgan after the match, taking it in. It was his last home game as the varsity girls soccer coach. This one – he wants to remember for a long time. 

“Knowing this is the last one for me just to go out with a win,” he said. “I’m trying to take it in tonight and not get too up or too down, and enjoy the game.”

The Greenwave had outskilled, outhustled and outcoached a metro east team. 

“It feels good,” he said. “I may not stop smiling until Tuesday. It’s a heck of a way to go out.”