Standing on the fields of Big Horn Equestrian Center, the entire Rawlins girls soccer team took a moment to take in the majestic views that the 2017 Wyoming State High School Soccer Championships offered.
Only one year earlier, the team’s head coach, Brooke Dotterer, stood in nearly that exact same spot and heard encouragements from her fellow soccer coaches.
“Man, you’re going to be here one day,” Dotterer remembered them telling her.
Through the determination of the underdog, that one day came around before they knew it.
With a 2-0 victory over Pinedale in a Class 3A Regional Qualifier, the Rawlins Lady Outlaws qualified for the state tournament this season for the first time in program history. Together, the pairing of a second-year coach and a young team of inexperienced soccer players made an impact.
“I am so proud of these girls and all that they have accomplished in this program over the last two years,” Dotterer said. “It’s been long days and countless hours that these girls put into this program. I am so unbelievably happy with their performance all year long.”
The outcome of the year may not have been quite storybook; Rawlins lost to the most prominent Class 3A girls’ team in Buffalo (17 state appearances), but the journey up to that point was something out of a screenwriting class.
Rawlins has no club soccer team and no middle school program. Those who go on to play soccer in high school do so by their own familiarity of the sport and by practicing on their own time.
That is nearly a polar opposite of the other teams they encountered in the state tournament and even throughout the season.
“We had Star Valley, Worland and Buffalo,” Dotterer said. “Those teams have been playing since 5 years old. My kids? Yeah, they just started in high school.”
Hopes may have risen early in the season when the Lady Outlaws started the year on a three-match winning streak. None of those opponents made the state tournament, but one of them was Pinedale, a team that Rawlins would later need to defeat for a second time to qualify for the tournament.
Then came the cruel reality of a harsh schedule.
Worland, Star Valley, Douglas, Lander and Buffalo were among the teams that sent Rawlins into a 10-match losing streak for the vast majority of the season. In fact, it took overtime for Rawlins to beat Torrington in the last match of the regular-season, setting the stage for the regional qualifier.
But not only did the Lady Outlaws have to face those challenges with inexperienced older players, they did it with a team composed of mostly underclassmen.
“My kids are young,” Dotterer said. “Them getting to the state tournament is an accomplishment of itself.
“They just give it everything they have. Young players, five seniors, it shows a lot to be able to stand up to programs like Buffalo.”
Junior midfielder Ana LaTorre was the leading scorer for the Lady Outlaws, tallying six goals. Dynamic sophomore midfielder Brooklynn Arnold, who was instrumental in the start of the season, finished just behind LaTorre with five.
Rawlins, however, didn’t make its living by scoring goals, they were at their best when stopping other teams from scoring.
That leans on the defense, anchored by the back line of Chantel Flores, Sadie Forney, Emily Padget and Daphney Bates. Not to mention the center midfielders that Dotterer likes to drop back into defense in her system.
“It starts from the back, up,” Dotterer said. “My defense has a lot of pressure on them, my center-mids, Ana (LaTorre) and Kennison (Spiering). This team is just going to go from here.”
Then there’s the case for freshman goalkeeper Jordan Jerome, who baffled more experienced teams all season.
She made 98 saves, the sixth most among Class 3A goalkeepers, including some highlight-reel stops against the Bison in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
“Never played soccer before in her life until this year,” Dotterer said of Jerome. “She’s amazing. Some of the saves she had were unbelievable.”
The new goal for the Lady Outlaws is to win a match at the state tournament, and it could happen next season with the major contributors returning, with the notable exception of Wyoming Coaches Association All-State selection Anne Marie McFarland.
Plus, the team’s success had led to more excitement about soccer around the community. Even an elusive middle school soccer program is in the works.
“Hopefully that will help us out in the future,” Dotterer said. “And we’ll be back here next year, readier than ever.”