The Lady Tigers: A story about adversity, perseverance and success

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Tyler Johnson, [email protected]

ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING (June 12, 2021) – Three weeks ago on Saturday, May 22, they came home from a soccer game just like they have many times before.

This time, though, it was different.

The community welcomed them home with sounds of cheers, horns and sirens. The Rock Springs High School Lady Tigers weren’t the same team as they were when they left a few short days prior.

From that day on, those Lady Tigers were known as the 2021 Class 4A Girls Soccer State Champions of the Wyoming High School Activities Association.

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But the accomplishment that took many years of hard work, perseverance and dedication, hasn’t sunk in with the players quite yet.

“It’s very surreal,” said Alex Moeller, goalkeeper for the Lady Tigers and 2021 graduate. “When I think about it, I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh. We did it!’ I still can’t believe it.”

“It’s crazy. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it,” said Amrey Willoughby, midfielder for the Lady Tigers and 2021 graduate.

As the Lady Tigers team bus made its way down Dewar Drive, through downtown and eventually to Rock Springs High School, the team was amazed and thrilled by the support they received.

“It was unreal. Just seeing the amount of cars following the bus, it was amazing,” said Olivia Politi, forward and 2021 graduate.

“It’s cool what the parents and what the community do for us when we put in the work and the effort to perform like that. For them to show the girls the recognition that the deserve, it’s awesome,” said Lady Tigers’ head coach Stephen Pyer.

The Championship Run

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It was an unusual run for the Lady Tigers – a run that began many, many years ago.

This is a squad that has been playing together for the part of a decade, and for some, even longer.

Most of the Lady Tigers have been teammates with one another since they were around 3 years old, giving them the advantage of developing that team chemistry and friendships that championship teams are made of

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The 2021 Lady Tigers performed to a 15-2 overall record. They were able to defeat Thunder Basin in this year’s state championship game, 2-0.

Politi scored both goals for the Lady Tigers. She scored the first goal about five minutes into the game and shortly after Moeller exited with an elbow injury.

“It was a great pump up for the team,” Politi said, who scored the goal off a rebound from a penalty kick. “Once the first goal goes, it’s just great pump up for the team to keep the momentum going.”

She scored the second goal just before halftime to seal the deal for her team.

Nelson, who was one of the players to step up in wake of Moeller’s injury, said it was nerve-racking.

“It was very nerve-racking, but I’ve played goalie before in club and stuff. At that moment, I feel like our team was like, ‘We got to play for Moe,’” Nelson said. “We all stepped up. It was crazy, though. I was shaking in the first half. In the second half, all they were doing was shooting at us.”

The Adversity

The path to a state title was not an easy one. The Lady Tigers were dealt a tough hand and faced many challenges.

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In 2019, the girls came close to reaching the state title game but lost to Thunder Basin in shootouts in the semifinal matchup. They would go on to claim a third-place finish that season.

The feeling from that game lingered and the 2020 Lady Tigers were poised to make another strong push for a state title. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the WHSAA was forced to cancel the entire 2020 spring season, which left that feeling from 2019 to linger even longer.

During the 2020 offseason, the team dealt with the unexpected death of their assistant coach Stephen Fisher. This became one of the many driving points for the Lady Tigers to bring home the state title hardware.

“I think it’s such a crazy feeling because we’ve been through so much together,” Moeller said.

“Most of us have won state club titles together. Then, not having a season last year and losing one of our coaches, I think it was just super hard for all of us. I think it pushed us so much this season because we were robbed last season.”

In 2019, the girls came close to reaching the state title game but lost to Thunder Basin in shootouts in the semifinal matchup. They would go on to claim a third-place finish.

The feeling from that game lingered and the 2020 Lady Tigers were poised to make another strong push for a state title. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the WHSAA were forced to cancel the entire 2020 spring season, which left that feeling from 2019 to linger even longer.

“This season was also for our coach. We wanted to do everything we could to bring it home. It sucked having that happen, but I also think it pushed us to be better this season and just work harder to get to our ultimate goal, which we ended up getting,” Moeller said.

For many of the Lady Tigers, the state championship is just a symbol and acknowledgement to the people that coached and mentored them throughout the years.

Before the championship game, they huddled and shared memories, knowing that it would be last time they all stepped on the field together.

“I think it definitely made winning so special since we’ve been close for so long,” Politi said. “Like, before the game, a bunch of us were crying. Going into the game was so special for us and then winning it was just so crazy.”

Repeat?

Are the Lady Tigers finished? Don’t count on it. When asked if Lady Tigers were going to repeat and definite their state title, junior forward Brecken Hunsaker didn’t hesitate.

“Oh yeah. We’re repeating.”

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Wyo4News would like to thank Olivia Politi, Alex Moeller, Lauren Profaizer, Amrey Willoughby, Karli Nelson, Kylee Knudsen and Brecken Hunsaker for stopping by the WyoRadio station on May 25 for the interview.