By Mike Monahan

MARION – It was an historic season on many levels.

The Mattoon girls won their first Apollo Conference soccer title.

The team earned its fifth regional title.

The Greenwave had won 16 straight games before Tuesday night’s sectional loss.

And this was the final season for the only coach in the MHS girls program’s history, Ryan Ghere.

Tuesday proved his final game after Mattoon lost 3-0 to Waterloo in the Class 2A IHSA Sectional semifinal at Marion’s Wildcat Stadium.

The Greenwave finish 23-3-1, besting their previous best mark of 19-6 that had been set the season before.

How good was this season? Ghere had difficulty getting upset after the loss.

“We had a great season,” said Ghere, who finished his 22 years with a 215-220-33 record for the girls program. “We had five goals when we started the season, and we got four of them. The only one we didn’t get was winning the Urbana Tournament. We lost two games (to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 3-0 and Geneseo 10-2) on the same day.”

Those were the only two losses MHS suffered until Tuesday.

“From the opening whistle we just were not ready to go maybe,“ said Ghere. “It is one of those things. You win a regional and you hope you don’t have a letdown in the sectional semifinals. I think we did, but that doesn’t take away anything from what we did all season long. I am proud of them. Usually, you tear up and get upset at the end of the season, but it was such a great season and we had so many positive things, it is hard to be upset about it.”

Waterloo (17-4-2) will play Troy Triad, a 7-0 winner over Marion, on Friday for the sectional championship. The Bulldogs are coached by Chad Holden, the only coach in Waterloo history. The Bulldogs won a sectional title in Class 2A in 2018 and they have had 21 straight winning seasons. Holden is 318-148-36 in his 23 years. 

Waterloo controlled the first half, taking four shots before making their fifth when Megan Young scored the first of three goals at the 12:30 mark. 

“We said in practice Monday night you can’t give them throw-ins by the goal because they have a girl who throws it right in the box. That is how they scored their first goal,” said Ghere.

The Greenwave defense shined the rest of the half while goalkeeper Jessica Evans stopped several shots. Another shot bounced off both poles and never went into the goal. 

Said Holden: “We knew Mattoon had a very good record coming in and we knew they would be very competitive. They gave us fits in the beginning as we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities. Mattoon held us at bay in the first half. “

The Bulldog defense, though, proved tougher. Mattoon only had two shots on goal, one a shot from 25 yards out caught by goalkeeper Lexi Stephens.

“As far as our season goes, we always knew our strength would be our defense,” said Holden, who also coaches the boys team. “It was what we returned from last year’s team.”

Ghere said they tried different formations but nothing seemed to work against the larger Waterloo squad. 

“They are big and physical,” Ghere said. “They are as physical as any team we have played.”

In the second half, the Bulldogs added a goal at the 48:08 mark for a 2-0 lead. Mattoon had several chances – its best coming at the 72 minute mark when Lily Ghere’s free kick went off the crossbar. Piper Sanders shot a few minutes later, but it went wide left. 

Everytime Stephens, a senior, gathered the ball on a MHS attempt she would boom a kick that would get into their side of the field. This was crucial.

“We have not played a team that had their back to their goal and she sends it 70 yards up the field,” said Ghere. “That goalie is really good. She changes the game. You think you are on the offensive third and the goalie gets it and sends it past midfield. I think we adjusted to that after 20 minutes and kind of took away some of the things that she did. They are just so physical and they are just so good in the air. We are not very good in the air. We don’t head balls very well. That is something that we have not had to do all year. We kept the ball on the ground and they played tougher in the air. We had some segments in the second half when we passed the ball and kept possession and gave ourselves hanes, but it was too far and too few between that we did that.”

Young added the finishing touches with a goal at the 73:23 mark. 

“We had a lot of shots, but they were either right at the goalie or hit the post. Luckily we were finally able to put it away,” Holden said. “Congrats to Mattoon on a great season.

In the regional final, the Greenwave had posted a 3-1 win over Bethalto Civic Memorial, a team that had lost to Waterloo 2-1 and 5-2. 

Mattoon graduates five seniors from a team that has gone 56-13-1 in their career – Taylor Kovach, Lily Ghere, Gabi Ray, Rene Beltran and Evans. Their freshman year was wiped out due to COVID-19. 

“I thought we played as well as we have all year last Friday (in the regional championship),” Ghere said. “We just didn’t have that energy, and we didn’t play as well as we did on Friday and that probably had something to do with Waterloo. We have five good seniors that are leaving us. They are great girls. It was one of the most fun seasons that coach (assistant coach Jason Morgan) and I have had with a group of kids. They work hard and they played hard and they are coachable. We have great parental support. It has just been kind of a family thing as a program. If you are going to go out on a year, this was as good of a year for me to go out on. Lily (Ghere) had a great season. Coaching your daughter is always fun. I can’t say enough about the girls.”