West Lincoln goalkeeper steps up in big game
Published 10:44 am Friday, January 19, 2024
WESSON — It took 100 minutes and a penalty shootout for Wesson to beat West Lincoln 3-2 in a MHSAA Class 1 Region 7 match Thursday night. West Lincoln’s sophomore goalkeeper Makenzie Stevenson made plenty of saves to give her team a chance to win with playoff hopes on the line.
West Lincoln Head Coach Dane Hodges said Stevenson is a first year soccer player and her first game on varsity came in a penalty shootout against district powerhouse Franklin County. Stevenson had a baptism by fire and has flourished since then.
She made save after save, scooped up loose balls and kept her composure in the face of Wesson’s onslaught of chances. West Lincoln had spurts of good attacking play Thursday night but Wesson kept possession and pressure on Stevenson and she never cracked.
West Lincoln lost on penalty kicks but Stevenson made a save and dove the correct way on several shots. Bear shooters missed three penalties with tired legs and minds. Wesson stepped up and converted three penalty kicks.
Cobra’s goalkeeper Mallory Sanders made a save in the penalty shootout on a shot taken low and to her left. The senior made similar key saves to beat Bogue Chitto in a penalty shootout on January 11.
Stevenson said her secret to going the right way on penalties is to judge the body language of the player. She is quick on her dives and puts herself in the right position to make saves several times.
Stevenson was upset after the game like several of the girls but composed herself.
“It was tough. The girls put in a good game. It is a hard job as a keeper,” Stevenson said. “It’s my first year to play. I had never touched a soccer ball until this year. I was managing the girls basketball team last year and coach Alissa Adams told me I should be goalie. She pushed me to try out and I did well enough to earn a spot. I have worked on it. If you saw my progress it has been drastic.”
West Lincoln’s basketball team would occasionally play kickball and Stevenson would be playing in the outfield where she had a knack for catching fly balls. Adams saw the potential then.
Stevenson seized the opportunity to play goalkeeper and practiced with the boys goalkeepers. She said they practice diving, defending long shots and penalty kicks. All of the hard work paid off as she moved up to the varsity team and showed out Thursday night.
Wesson plays soccer games at Co-Lin Community College on a turf field which causes the ball to take different bounces and roll quicker than it would on a normal grass field. Stevenson said it was a challenge at first but the team was able to adapt to it Thursday night.
Hodges said he is not sure if the penalty shootout loss will be enough to get the Bears into the playoffs with a 2-6 record. Bogue Chitto has one more district game left to play and if they win they would be in the playoffs but a loss could come down to several different tie breakers.
Stevenson said she plans to return next year and to keep playing goalkeeper. Her teammates have become like a family now. She will miss senior Lari Jayne Reed at the conclusion of the season.
“I wanted to quit at first but I have made a family here. They are my family, coach Hodges is my family,” Stevenson said. “I’ll be back for the rest of my high school years. That is the plan. Playing with LJ has been amazing. Playing around her is amazing because she has a heck of a leg and I know she will protect me at all costs. I’m never worried when she is playing.”
West Lincoln has two games left in the season. They are set to play Terry on January 23 and then at Hazlehurst on January 25.
Wesson moved into second place in district with the win ahead of Franklin County. The Bulldogs have a game in hand. Wesson plays at Loyd Star tonight with kickoff set for 5:30 p.m.