By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
It’s a daunting task for the Fort Gibson girls soccer team, but they are not backing down from it.
For their first time in the Class 4A state championship game, the Lady Tigers face the two-time defending state champion Verdigris Lady Cardinals, led by Caitlyn Hanslovan.
The two teams clash at 5 p.m. at the University of Tulsa.
Verdigris has won the last four titles, but had the 2009 and 2010 championships vacated by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association for having ineligible players.
The Lady Cardinals come into today’s game at No. 1 in the Okrankings.com poll with a 12-3 record. No. 2 Fort Gibson is 12-1.
“We’re going in as the underdog and we accept that role,” Fort Gibson coach Jaime Snyder said. “We’re hungry and we’re going to give it a shot. They have the advantage of experience over us, but we’re not coming into this game in awe of being here. We’re treating this just like it’s another game that we’ve played all year.”
Hanslovan has a team-leading 20 goals this season. She scored twice in Tuesday’s semifinal 3-0 win against Harrah and found the net for all of her team’s goals in last year’s 4-1 win against Bethany in the state title game to finish the season with 33.
“The Catoosa coach sad she’s one of best if not the best player in 4A, but I think we have two of the better players with (sophomore forward) Jordan Raynor and (senior midfielder) Lillian Bear.”
Bear can’t wait to get on the field against Hanslovan.
“If she’s the challenge, I’ll take it,” Bear said. “Based on the games that both of us have played, I’d say we’re neck and neck. I’ve watched them on film and I think we have a good chance. I’ve been waiting for this game and we’re blessed to have this opportunity. We’re ready.”
Raynor said she and her teammates will not be intimidated by Hanslovan.
“She has really good ball control and is really fast,” she said. “Our defense hasn’t been scored on much this year and if we play our A game, we should be OK.”
As a team this season, the Lady Tigers have yielded just 11 goals.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” Snyder said. “I don’t know if we played a team like Verdigris, but it’s our goal to stop them. They say defense wins championships because we know even one goal may be the difference in the game.”
Defensively, the District 6-4A champion Lady Tigers have six shutouts this season including the 2-0 win against Piedmont in the semifinals earlier this week.
Junior forward Brooke Benham (11), Raynor (10) and Bear (9) are the leading scorers for the Lady Tigers.
While Fort Gibson concedes the experience to Verdigris, Benham and her teammates think they have something just as important — confidence.
“This is going to be exciting. All of us think we can get it done,” she said. “I have faith in us. We also have good depth and we think that will pay off for us.”