Under the most pressure one can face on a soccer pitch, Emily Spears shot the perfect penalty into the top left corner of the goal and immediately felt the relief that came along with it. It was not long after that shot she realized what it meant for Elmore County.
Spears’ goal secured a penalty shootout victory against Holtville in the Class 4A/5A Section 4 rivalry match. After seeing her shot hit the back of the net, she turned to see her entire team storming the field to meet her to celebrate.
“I was really proud of myself that I did something like that for my team,” Spears said. “It was incredible. Everyone was coming toward me and they were all so happy and proud of me. When I saw the picture again, I smiled a lot.”
The emotions on the faces of her teammates show how important the win was to Elmore County as it ended a three-game losing streak to Holtville and kept the Panthers alive in the postseason race.
“We had already been in a shootout with them the year before and we came out on the losing end,” ECHS coach Angie Simmons said. “I was thinking I can’t look at these girls and try to build them up if we lose this again. When it happened and she made the shot, I was just overjoyed.”
Simmons said that victory in 2019 is still her favorite win during her five years of coaching the Panthers. She said that moment helped pull the team together even more and helped some of the younger girls feel more confident moving forward.
“Emily was just a seventh-grader and I pulled her up to play with us,” Simmons said. “She did a lot for us and that kind of gave her her place on the team.”
While most of the team swarmed Spears near midfield after the final kick, Simmons can be seen on the far left of the photograph running away from the bench. Elmore County goalkeeper Mackenzie Stephens allowed only two of Holtville’s five players to score in the shootout and Simmons made sure she joined in on the celebration too.
“I was heading to Kenzie,” Simmons said. “She needed that just as much as Emily needed to make that shot. She struggles with the psyche of penalties. That really helped her gain so much confidence that day.”
Simmons said that kind of celebration may have happened in any dramatic win like that but it certainly boosted the excitement to get it against the team’s biggest rival. The Panthers were also dealing with some extra emotions throughout the season and they dedicated that particular win to one of their biggest fans.
“My dad was suffering from cancer throughout the entire season and wasn’t doing very well,” Simmons said. “I remember telling the girls to do it for Pepaw. After the game, they made a video to send to him telling him that we won. He had to have an update for every single game and he knew how important that game was.”