SILER CITY — The pandemic-shortened season didn’t end the way the Jets hoped.
Instead of punching a ticket to the postseason, the Jordan-Matthews women’s soccer team saw its …
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SILER CITY — The pandemic-shortened season didn’t end the way the Jets hoped.
Instead of punching a ticket to the postseason, the Jordan-Matthews women’s soccer team saw its playoff chances crash and burn on a late-game goal by conference foe Providence Grove on Wednesday.
Though the 4-3 loss was unfavorable and their season was nearing its end, the Jets chose to spend the moments after the game with one another, as a team, sitting around their bench and building each other up.
The tears shed by the players weren’t caused by the game’s outcome or their suddenly minuscule chances of making the playoffs, but instead because the team’s sisterhood is losing some of its members to graduation.
“This team means everything to me,” said J-M senior Litzy Martinez, one of the team’s captains. “I’ve been playing on this team for three years and I’ve met some cool people. There’s just this bond, this sisterhood and you just want to go over there and just stretch out your arms and give them a big, strong hug. And I’m going to miss it.”
J-M’s loss to Providence Grove also doubled as senior night.
As part of the Jets’ senior night tradition, the players sit in a circle on the field after the game and each senior has a designated person that gives them a small gift and tells them how much they’ve meant to them. Then the rest of the team follows suit.
It’s an intimate time that transcends whatever has just taken place on the pitch, giving underclassmen a chance to express their gratitude to the seniors.
It’s filled with laughs, heartwarming stories and, of course, plenty of watery eyes.
“It’s a tradition that we started four or five years ago,” said Chip Millard, head coach for the J-M women’s soccer team. “And it’s their favorite part. … I love to watch them play, that’s what coaching is about for me is watching kids get so much better. They mean a lot. And I’ve known them for a long time. So it was a very emotional senior night for me.”
And those four seniors — Daniella Guerrero Jaimes, Litzy Martinez, Jennifer Parroquin Vallejo and Ashley Ruiz — made their presence known on Wednesday.
With a possible trip to the playoffs on the line, the two PAC 7 conference rivals battled it out to see who would take second place in the conference behind the undefeated Wheatmore Warriors (10-0, 8-0 in PAC 7, 2-0 against J-M). It was believed that whichever team won had a realistic shot at making the NCHSAA 2A playoffs as a wild card team.
Providence Grove controlled the first half, scoring two goals and playing menacing defense that allowed very little scoring opportunities for the Jets, though the few they did create were inches away from putting them on the board.
In the 33rd minute, J-M’s Jennifer Parroquin Vallejo got the ball at midfield and raced down the pitch, weaving her way through four Patriot defenders and earning a chance to go one-on-one with the goalkeeper. As she entered the box and prepared to take a shot, one of the defenders caught up with her and barely tapped the ball away, saving a likely goal.
“I think in a big game like this, sometimes you just want to drive down the middle and be the hero and try to win and Providence Grove knew how to stop that,” Millard said. “(Parroquin Vallejo) is such a dynamic dribbler and can do that. But they don’t always work. You have to keep creating those chances.”
It wasn’t until the second half, down 2-0 after the break, that the Jets shook off their sluggishness, started communicating better and took the game into their own hands.
In the 45th minute, Parroquin Vallejo slipped by two defenders, received a perfect inbound pass, dribbled past the goalkeeper and slotted the ball across the box to an empty right side of the net, putting the Jets on the board.
And just four minutes later, in the 49th minute, her sister, freshman Michelle Parroquin Vallejo, knocked the ball just over the goal line — which the goalkeeper knocked right back out — in the middle of a pile up off of a right-side corner kick. Both teams waited in anticipation for the referees to confirm the goal, which they did after a brief conference, tying the game at 2-2.
Just like that, the home team was in full control. And it wouldn’t stop there.
In the 55th minute, Jennifer Parroquin Vallejo was tripped by a Providence Grove defender inside of the box on a breakaway attempt, giving her the opportunity for a penalty kick.
On the PK, she methodically trotted up to the ball and, seemingly with ease, rolled it into the right side of the net to score her second goal of the night and give the Jets a 3-2 lead after being down by two goals a little over 10 minutes earlier.
“It’s the story of the season,” Millard said. “We’re working in practice on what I think we need to do to beat a team, and we’re all for it and we have great practices, and then the first half we’re sluggish. We don’t want to talk, we’re sluggish and that’s exactly what you saw tonight. And then the second half, we sort of bring it on. And so we did.”
The Jets weren’t the only team that could go on a scoring flurry, however, as the Patriots did just that later in the second half.
Providence Grove scored on a header off of a corner kick in the 64th minute, tying the game at 3-3 and immediately shifting the momentum.
Then, in the 70th minute, Providence Grove senior Alisha Holt gained possession of a loose ball in J-M territory and made her defender stumble just long enough to allow her to square up and fire a shot from around 20 yards out, laying it into the left part of the net. The Patriots’ sideline erupted while a couple of Jets dropped their heads, both teams simultaneously realizing the weight of the contest.
“I think in a game that both teams know is this important, it’s sort of a tale of whose will is stronger and I think at the end, Providence Grove had it,” Millard said.
The Patriots have seven seniors on their team, comprising nearly half of the roster.
“This was many (of their) girls’ last chance at something and we have a very young team,” Millard said. “We have those four seniors, but we have no juniors, we have lots of freshmen and sophomores and they’re great players, and they’ve learned so much this year, but I think one thing we’ve had an issue with is that they haven’t been in those big-game situations.”
The Jets never got a fair shot to equalize as Providence Grove kept the ball away from them as much as possible until time ran out, completing a 4-3 Patriots victory and, in the moment, keeping them alive in the postseason hunt.
Despite the win, however, Providence Grove was left off of the bracket on Seeding Saturday, narrowly missing a wild card spot in the playoffs. This means that had J-M won on Wednesday, there’s a decent chance it also wouldn’t have qualified.
On Thursday, the Jets got a chance to play their final game of the season against the playoff-bound Woods Charter Wolves, one last contest with the seniors at the helm. They earned the 2-1 win with Martinez scoring one of the goals in her final game.
J-M finished the season at 5-3 in the PAC 7 (6-6 overall), good for third place in the conference.
While he isn’t happy to see his four seniors go, Millard already seemed excited for next year, looking ahead to some of the younger players on his roster stepping up.
“It’s very exciting because we have 20 freshmen and sophomores coming back next year,” Millard said. “And then we’ll, hopefully, have some coming up from middle school. And so I’m just very excited. Some of our sophomores and freshmen are just so good and they’ll just get better and better. They have so much room to improve.”
After the game, Martinez discussed what she’ll miss most about her four years at J-M.
“(I’ll miss) being on the field, having the opportunity to play, to touch the ball, to get cheered on — scoring is literally the best — and I’m going to miss everything,” she said with a bittersweet laugh. “It sucks. It really does.”