Stingy defense makes Hauck goal stand up as McCallum tops Magnolia 1-0 in ‘slugfest’

District, bi-district and now area champion Knights rely on ‘gritty not pretty’ performance to advance to third round of playoffs for first time in 18 years
As head coach Thomas Gammerdinger claps for his team, defenders Isa Lopez Reed and Ruby Barnett flank Madi Briggs as she raises the area championship trophy before rushing to her teammates with it. Considering that Lopez Reed, Briggs, Barnett and Sienna Gunning anchored the back line throughout the game, the image seems like an apt symbol for how the game was won.
As head coach Thomas Gammerdinger claps for his team, defenders Isa Lopez Reed and Ruby Barnett flank Madi Briggs as she raises the area championship trophy before rushing to her teammates with it. Considering that Lopez Reed, Briggs, Barnett and Sienna Gunning anchored the back line throughout the game, the image seems like an apt symbol for how the game was won.
Emerson Merritt

The varsity girls soccer team defeated Magnolia 1-0 in the second round of playoffs at Cub Stadium in Brenham. The victory makes the Knights area champions and propels them to the third round of the 5A UIL state playoff tournament. 

Beyond the context of this season, the win is also a historic one for McCallum athletics. The Shield believes the 2024 girls varsity soccer team is only the third Knights team that has advanced past the second round of the UIL playoffs in the past 18 years. The girls soccer team last won an area championship in 2006. 

Senior Sarah Hauck scored the only goal of the game midway through the second half.

“It really was a total team goal,” Hauck told the Shield today. “Everyone was fighting for the ball, and it got crossed over to me in the middle. I took a touch and shot the ball to the bottom left corner. It honestly felt like slow motion.”

Head coach Thomas Gammerdinger said that the goal was a blur, but that he thought the sequence was started by a characteristically strong and long throw-in from sophomore Sienna Gunning.

Coach G gave Hauck more credit for the goal than she gave herself.

“It was not a pretty goal in terms of stringing together several passes,” Gammerdinger said. “It was more of a great-composure, bring-the-ball-under-control-and-finish kind of a goal. She showed great poise to finish off the goal.”

Sophomore Maya Tackett said that before the goal was scored, the game had been back and forth all night, until Hauck had the ball at her feet at the top of the box.

“One thing about Sarah is she’s always looking to shoot, and she’s going to shoot it well,” Tackett said. “Seeing her get the shot off and it curve around the goalie was an incredible feeling. It was surreal, to be honest.”

Under the bright lights of Cub Stadium in Brenham, senior Kat Klein battles a Magnolia player for possession while senior Caroline Owen (left) and freshman Maya Garwood (right) hold the team’s shape on the pitch. Coach Tom Gammerdinger said that the game was a frenzied battle for possession on both sides and that he was proud of his team for matching the the Bulldogs’ physicality even though Magnolia had a significant size advantage over the Knights. Photo by Chloe Seckar-Martinez.

Like Gammerdinger, Hauck remembered the grit and determination that led to the goal more than the details of how it happened.

“Everyone was putting 110% the entire game,” she said, “and honestly I don’t fully remember the goal, but I just know everyone was up pressing.”

After Hauck scored, with only about 20 minutes left in the game, Tackett said the Knights knew they had to protect their advantage.

“Before the goal, it was very much forward-focused, with us trying to do everything in our power to score,” she said. “We knew we had to manage the game and finish it out strong.”

Gammerdinger said that there was no official strategy to switch to a conservative style of play, until the game conditions required it.

“We did a good job of not getting too defensive, especially at first,” he said. “The wind started to pick up, and it was not in our favor. They were content to defend and clear [toward the end]. In the last 10 minutes, we did not have much possession, but it was not an agreed upon strategy  [to play defensively].”

Preparing to battle the unknown

Tackett said that figuring out how to prepare for Magnolia was tricky because they were largely unknown. She said she watched film from a previous game to prepare for the match, but she found that not knowing much about their particular style of play or their best players was difficult.

Gammerdinger said that the teams had similar records and one common opponent—Nederland—whom both teams defeated by a three-goal margin. He believed heading into the game that the teams were evenly matched despite press reports that Magnolia was a strong favorite heading into the game.

“We were probably the underdog,” Gammerdinger said. “Max Preps metrics said they were a significant favorite. They had two D1 kids on their roster, but I don’t think it was a ‘shock the word’ kind of win. I expected it to be a close game and look like it did:  a competitive game between two evenly matched teams.” 

Whether or not the Bulldogs were favorites, Tackett admitted that they definitely had a size advantage over the Knights.

“They were also really aggressive and much bigger than us, so trying to keep up with them on that hand was hard,” Tackett said.

Gammerdinger agreed.

“It was definitely the most physical game that they’ve played: the grittiest but not the prettiest,” he said. “It was not a pretty game for either side. It was a slugfest. … No one possessed the ball too much. Play was frenzied with the teams battling for the ball the whole time.” 

It may have been a gritty and frenzied game, but Gammerdinger said his team was able to win because they fearlessly met the challenge of Magnolia’s physical play.

 “Our kids stood toe to toe against them in terms of determination and grit,” Coach G said. “Some kids got banged up and stayed in the game to finish.”

Perhaps no one typified that toughness more than senior goalkeeper Rylee Hissey who earned a clean sheet despite the Bulldogs putting a lot of shots on goal.

“Rylee Hissey totally stood on her head,” Gammerdinger said. “I would say she had 20 saves.”

Tackett agreed that Hissey made a major contribution in the win.

“Rylee is an incredible player and person,” Tackett said. “She played lights-out last night and was definitely the MVP.”

Hissey attributed her success to her mental approach heading into the game.

“I knew that I was going to get a lot of shots on me tonight. so I was just prepared for having to stay active and focused the entire game,” she said.

But Hissey was also quick to share the credit for the shutout with her teammates.

“Our defense was super strong during the whole game especially when we scored our goal,” she said. “We knew we had to hold out for the rest of the 20 minutes.”

Hauck offered praised for Hissey’s herculean effort in goal but also said the entire defensive back line played great in the game preserving the narrowest of margins to an area championship. The starters on the back line defending Mac’s goal are Sienna Gunning, Madi Briggs, Ruby Barnett and Isa Lopez Reed.

Tackett extended the praise to the entire team and said they played well as a unit because they talked to each other.

“I think our communication in this game was some of the best I’ve ever seen it,” Tackett said. “Whenever we needed a mark to get picked up somewhere, we could communicate with each other.”

Tackett said that something everyone on the team had said at the beginning of the season when stating their goals for the year was to get past the second round of playoffs.

“I think it was just do whatever we can to win and keep the game fun because at the end of the day, that’s why we all play soccer,” she said. “With all that this team has gone through this year, showing out at playoffs is the cherry on top.”

Truly a special team

Tackett believes that mentality is what won the Knights the game.

“Our ability to dig deep and realize that this is such a special team and opportunity in front of us [showed us] that we were going to do anything in our power to win this game,” she said. “I’m just super proud and fortunate to be a part of this team. This is truly a special team and I hope everyone realizes that.”

Those close to the girls varsity program throughout the years know this team is special. After talking with several former girls varsity soccer players whose careers overlapped back to 2015 and longtime coach Nancy Honeycutt Searle, the Shield determined that no girls varsity soccer team has gone this far in the playoffs in the past 18 years. According to the UIL website, you have to go back to 2006 to find a McCallum girls varsity soccer team to make it to the third round of the UIL playoffs.

Delaney Carter (Class of 2019) and Lindsey Plotkin (Class of 2021) were teammates on the 2019 team that lost in the second round of the playoffs, and Plotkin and Mia Gomez (Class of 2022) were teammates on the 2021 team that also won a bi-district title but went no further. In 2022 and 2023, the Knight season also ended in the second playoff round.

But Gammerdinger said that the win wasn’t just historic in terms of girls soccer at Mac. He said that he was hard pressed to remember many teams that have made it to the third round of the playoffs. He could only remember two: the 2017 varsity football team made it to the 5A D2 state semifinals, and a year later, the 2018-2019 boys varsity soccer team won two games to claim the area championship before losing in the third round.

“In terms of the last 15 years, this is a historical moment for our athletic program,” Gammerdinger said.

He said Thursday’s win meant a lot to him personally as well.

Gammerdinger said. “For me personally, this game ranks up really high among the top two or three games I have won as a coach.”

He ranked Tuesday’s win with the 2017 quarterfinal football victory over Calallen and the 2022 playoff victory over Leander Glenn and his top three wins as a coach. 

He did identify one common theme in all three wins.

“Seeing good kids have success never gets old.”

He believes that they will win

Those kids had high praise for their head coach who was thrust into the role unexpectedly after the departure of Barney Guerra who started the season with the team.

In the wake of her team’s historic win, Hauck expressed appreciation for Coach G stepping in to lead the team, adding that he played a major part in making the win possible.

“He brought a new perspective and tenacity to the team,” Hauck said. “He has been very supportive but at the same time challenged us to be our best.

Hissey also feels that Coach G has helped the team make history.

“From the first second he became our coach he had so much belief in us and also put so much effort into it,” she said. “He has been very good at taking feedback and also at using the right words to get us hyped up or get out of our heads. Overall he has been such a great coach and I’m really glad we had the opportunity to play for him.”

The Knights huddle up arm in arm prior to the start of their area playoff victory over Magnolia at Cub Stadium in Brenham. Sophomore midfielder Maya Tackett said that the team’s communication on the field was excellent and a major factor leading to their narrow victory over the favored Bulldogs. (Emerson Merritt.)

Asked to offer her assessment of Coach G’s influence, Tackett made the opinion unanimous.

“He’s been with us through so many ups and downs in such a short period of time,” she said.

Tackett pointed to the devastating loss to LASA, which could have turned the entire season south.

 “Losing to LASA put our spirits down, but he viewed it as an opportunity to grow.”

And so the team did too. Save for a playoff preparation practice game against Rouse, they haven’t lost since by the way en route to a district, bi-district and area title. 

Hissey said the LASA game also demonstrated Coach G’s willingness to listen to his players and his belief in their ability to succeed.

“He knew we were stressed and weren’t playing our best because of it, so he would ask us what we think is best for us in situations like those. He would always have a positive attitude about what we could accomplish.”

That positivity helped fuel the team’s current win streak including Thursday’s game against Magnolia.

“He was very adamant about [our ability to win] in our most recent game and gave us the confidence to play our best,” Hissey said.

Tackett also agreed with Hissey that Coach G has been very good at accepting feedback and at reading his team’s emotions.

“He’s learned how our team reacts to a ton of pressure,” Tackett said. “Before each game, he says something along the lines of ‘You guys have worked all season to be here, and now it’s just time to go show all of that work. Do it for the people standing next to you, and all the sacrifices they’ve made. and don’t forget to have fun while doing it.’”

She added that despite his reputation as a football first coach, Coach G has been able to make adjustment during soccer games to help his team succeed.

“I never realized how much he’s coached from the bench until the last game,” Tackett said. “Specifically in the second half, after we scored the goal, he was calling a lot of shots like if we should pressure a ball or just hold our shape so that Magnolia didn’t have a chance to get around us.”

Coach G illustrated Hissey’s point about his time commitment to his new spring job on Friday night. He made the two-hour drive to Caldwell to watch Georgetown defeat Montgomery Lake Creek for its own area championship.

If you want a silver lining, the next round will be closer. Georgetown will host the Knights for round 3 of the 5A state playoffs on Tuesday. Opening kick is at 6 p.m.

MaxPreps says the game is Monday but perhaps that’s an April Fool’s joke. Of course, they picked Magnolia to win the previous game. Let’s hope they tap Georgetown as a heavy favorite for Tuesday’s game.

This story includes additional reporting by Julia Copas, Emerson Merritt and Dave Winter.

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