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Whitefish girls suffer heartbreaking championship loss to Billings Central

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | November 2, 2022 1:00 AM

With the score knotted at 1-1 and the final minutes ticking off the clock of the Class A girls soccer state final, the atmosphere was tense and the players gave it all they had.

Billings Central’s Lauren Dull got the ball in transition in the 76th minute and kicked a shot to the upper corner of the goal that deflected off another player and sailed over Whitefish goalkeeper Norah Schmidt’s glove. The shot taken from about 25 yards out was enough to seal the 2-1 win over the Bulldogs and give Billings Central its 10th State A Championship on Saturday in Whitefish.

In the final four minutes of the game, Whitefish tried for the equalizer which would have pushed it to extra time, but the whistle blew and left the Bulldogs accepting the second-place trophy.

Though the result isn’t what the Whitefish team played all season to achieve, Bulldog coach Roland Benedict says it is still a moment the players will never forget and a moment of growth for each of them.

“That experience, losing that last game, they’ll talk about it forever and they're going to learn so many great lessons from the suffering and the pain from the season, picking themselves up,” Benedict expressed. “They’ll remember winning the Laurel game and the Hamilton game, then tying this game — the lessons learned, and that’s what it’s ultimately about.”

Just to make it to the final, Whitefish persevered through a tough end of the season when the team suffered its only regular season loss. The players bounced back when they defeated the defending state champions, Laurel, in the first round of the playoffs — a game which they won in a thrilling penalty kick shootout. In the semifinal, Hamilton pushed Whitefish to overtime again, then the Bulldogs scored two goals in extra time to win and get the opportunity to host the state championship game.

“High school sports is a camaraderie, life-teaching space and that’s the most powerful thing we can do as coaches, is we get to affect the student-athlete and the person on a real-life basis,” Benedict continued. “They’re just going to learn everything from that game, and they wouldn’t have those lessons taught to them in that moment if they had won, it would have been a different moment.”

In the first half against Billings Central, Whitefish came out prepared to handle some of the Rams' toughest players in the outside midfield positions.

Whitefish did a good job of limiting dangerous attacking plays, but early in the half, the Rams’ Abby Derbyshire scored to give Billings Central an early lead. The rest of the half was a scoreless battle.

At halftime, the Bulldogs made some adjustments in positions that helped them have more attacking opportunities in the final 40 minutes of play.

“We risked more in terms of possession, they definitely had the ball a little more in the second half, but in terms of territory on the field, gaining territory and keeping them pinned in their own half we definitely succeeded in the second half,” Benedict said.

Whitefish’s Brooke Roberts gave her team life in the 44th minute when she scored on a precisely hit shot from outside the 18 that floated over the Rams goalkeeper.

The two teams played at a highly competitive level for the remainder of the game, both seeing scoring opportunities not quite hitting the back of the net.

Dull’s late dagger only gave Whitefish a few minutes to score a tying goal, but the Bulldogs came up short.

“I thought we played fantastic. It hurt to lose but when you look at the performance we definitely did enough to get there…” Benedict said. “We came in prepared and unfortunately we lost on a 25-yard deflected shot that went over our keeper’s head.”

After the final whistle, emotions and tears struck the Whitefish sidelines. A feeling of disappointment, especially for the seniors who played their final high school soccer game.

The seniors took an emotional final walk across the home pitch at Smith Fields.

Benedict says the seniors will be missed and it was a diverse group of players, each having a unique soccer background that when put together was essential to the success of the team.

“I think when those seniors would communicate and give advice, you would get advice from every pathway in our program — from the seniors that have started forever, from the girls less experienced in the game, from the players that didn’t get any playing time until this year — everyone was in that group. It was a special senior group,” Benedict said.

Whitefish finished the season 12-1-2 and also won the North A conference.

Billings Central 1 1 — 2

Whitefish 0 1 — 1

BC - Abby Derbyshire

WF - Brooke Roberts

BC - Lauren Dull

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Bulldog senior Katie Benkelman works to keep the ball away from a Billings Central defender during second half of the State A final on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Whitefish senior Brooke Roberts tries to get a shot off after beating the Rams goalkeeper in the final minutes of the State A final against Billings Central on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Whitefish's Delaney Smith tries to get past the Billings Central defenders in the State A championship on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Whitefish seniors take a final walk across their home field after losing in the state championship game on Saturday in Whitefish. From left to right: Katie Benkelman, Rya Hirsch, Maya Lacey, Madelyn Alexander, Maddie Muhlfeld and Brooke Roberts. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Bulldog Maddie Muhlfeld keeps the ball from a Billings Central player during the State A final on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Whitefish girls soccer coach Roland Benedict encourages his players after the Bulldogs lost to Billings Central 2-1 in the State A final on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Whitefish coaches console their players after accepting the second-place trophy following the loss to Billings Central in the the State A final on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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Whitefish players celebrate a second-half goal by Brooke Roberts in the the State A final on Saturday in Whitefish. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)

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