Locked in a penalty shootout the likes of which neither team had ever seen, the Kelly Walsh sideline reached the point of disbelief against Green River in the third-place match at the Wyoming State High School Class 4A Boys Soccer Championship two weeks ago.
“About shooter number nine we looked at each other and said ‘What happens if we go past 10?’” Kelly Walsh head coach Bryan Chadderdon later recalled. “We kind of joked if we pull parents out, have coaches out, have managers shoot.”
It took 16 rounds for a winner to be determined but the Trojans outscored the Wolves 11-10 in the shootout to seal the victory.
Chadderdon and Green River head coach Chris Bieber conveyed the same thoughts. It was a fitting end to a season of competitive matches between the two sides.
“We were excited to win,” Chadderdon said, “but there’s nothing to feel bad about if you’re on the other end, which was fun because we battled all year.”
Faced with adversity in the final match of the year, Kelly Walsh managed to come away on top, just like it had all season.
The season began with a 4-1-0 run until back-to-back losses, the first to rival Natrona and the second to defending state champion Laramie, threw the outcome of the season into doubt.
A tie with Evanston, in which the Red Devils scored an own goal, did little to instill confidence. But the following day the Trojans turned it around with a convincing 3-1 win over Jackson and momentum of that match carried over to a 4-0 shutout of Natrona in the Casper Cup.
Even when the goals wouldn’t go in, as forward Devin Palepale and midfielder Alex Perez experienced with shots that hit nearly every inch of the crossbar, the Trojans stayed calm.
“It’s persistence, it’s belief in yourself and not giving up,” Chadderdon said. “I think that was always in Alex but when Devin was a junior he would get discouraged and he would shut down, and as a striker you can’t have that mentality.
“This year he kept plugging away and he’s so gifted, athletically, that all he needed was a gap and he’d make it happen. Testament to their attitude for sure and a testament to their teammates for being supportive all season.”
The Trojans closed the season on a run for the top seed in the regional tournament but fell short to Rock Springs, which had the state’s longest unbeaten run during the season. With a chance to dethrone the Tigers, Kelly Walsh was shut down in the regional championship on its home field.
Once in the tournament, it was a series of landmark moments that defined the Trojans.
The quarterfinal match against Gillette was as much back-and-forth as any this year and a Camels’ go-ahead goal was erased by an equalizer by the 10-men Trojans to force overtime and a subsequent shootout.
Calmly, like he had in previous big situations, goalkeeper Teldon Zimmershied set the tempo by diving to his right and stopping the first shot.
“The thing that’s cool about Teldon is that I don’t think he knew what he’s capable of doing,” Chadderdon said. “He was really good in the quarterfinal game and came up in the shootout and made some really good saves.”
Senior captain Ryan McMullen stepped to the penalty spot with a chance to end it and earn redemption for his missed penalty against Laramie in last year’s state tournament.
With confidence, the center back sent the ball sharply into the back of the net and delivered the Trojans to the semifinals.
“He turned himself into a great player by sheer hard work,” Chadderdon said of McMullen. “I was ecstatic for him when he scored at regionals and scored the PK at state.
“We really missed him (in the semifinals) when he got hurt. His lack of presence was definitely felt.”
McMullen went down with a leg injury in the semifinal against Cheyenne Central. Having lost regular starters to red cards in addition to injuries, the Trojans stayed competitive but couldn’t overcome the top team in the state and lost in the semifinals.
That loss was just another adversity to a team that encountered so many. Kelly Walsh had already scored two goals while playing with 10 men in the season and netted goals in the final 10 minutes of matches multiple times.
“There’s something special about every team that you have but this team had chemistry,” Chadderdon said. “I was just happy for a team of kids that loved to play together so much.”
Perez, McMullen, Palepale, Austin Kampa, Fabi Ross and Matt Hitchcock, among others, will graduate and not return next season. So next year’s squad is focused on finding its leaders right now.
The return of players like Joe Gilbar, Zimmershied, Cody Redmon, Dylan Stupak, Ramon Lopez and Joey Geil give the Trojans hope for next season.
None of them will be scoring specialists but that’s fine by them. It’s just one more adversity for them to overcome.
“We had some good players but we didn’t have a superstar like a Ross Elliott (Central) or a Danny Diaz (Natrona),” Chadderdon said. “We didn’t have a kid like that. We just had a team that loved to play together and my memory of them is never giving up regardless of adversity.
“The couple red cards, injury, bit of bad luck. They found a way to do that multiple times throughout the season. They didn’t know that they didn’t have a superstar.”