The varsity team after their 1-0 win against Magnolia High School, which made them area champions.
The varsity team after their 1-0 win against Magnolia High School, which made them area champions.
Chloe Seckar-Martinez

Girls soccer makes historic 5A playoff run

After winning district, bi-district titles, Knights win area championship for first time since 2006

The 2023-2024 varsity girls soccer team advanced to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2006. The girls started their memorable run by clinching the 24-5A District with a 2-1 win over Ann Richards on March 8. With a a 7-5 win over Cedar Creek on Tuesday March 26, the Knights earned a bi-district title, which matched the achievement of last year’s team. With their next win, however a 1-0 victory over Magnolia on Thursday March 28, the Knights won the area title, something few Knights teams have done and something the girls varsity soccer team had not done in 18 years. Unfortunately, their historic run came to an end with a 3-1 loss tonight at the at the hands of Georgetown. While the loss is disappointing, it doesn’t change the fact that this team has etched a special place in the history of McCallum soccer and Mac sports in general.

We are please to share our coverage of the team’s playoff success as this week’s Tuesday Top 10 photo essay.

A TICKET TO PLAYOFFS: After beating Ann Richards 2-1 in their regular district season finale on March 8, the girls varsity soccer team secured the district title and the No. 1 seed in District 24-5A in the playoffs. For senior Ellie Knoll, the game was not only about winning, but celebrating the work it took the team to emerge from a tough season as district champs.

“It was so special for all of us,” Knoll said. “Losing to LASA flipped a switch in us and made us more hungry to win.” 

The setback against the Raptors motivated the Knights to improve as a team and prepare for the upcoming playoffs. 

“Still feels good to win, especially since it puts us above LASA,” Knoll said. “I really felt like it solidified who we are as a team and what we’re capable of. LASA won a lot of awards for the district, which we felt we deserved, so it proved that we are the stronger, better team.” 

Knoll said that the district title was a team effort, and she also credited Coach Thomas Gammerdinger, who took over in the middle of the season after the departure of Barney Guerra who started the season as head coach. Celebrating in win over Ann Richards by dancing with Gammerdinger’s daughter Camilla made the win even more special.

“It was just a super sweet moment,” Knoll said. “She always shows up with the coach and brings such a good attitude.”

Knoll added that the win was the result of a complete effort on both sides of the field.

“I think we did a great job finding the balance between defense and offense,” Knoll said. “It was one of my first times playing defense, so it was definitely something different, but I feel the back line really shined that game.”

Caption by Chloe Lewcock. Photo by Julia Copas.

WORKING UP THE LATTER: Sophomore Maya Tackett celebrates with her teammates, freshman Maya Garwood and senior Kat Klein, after her assist to Garwood. Garwood scored the two goals in the 2-1 win, which allowed the team to secure their first place position in the district.

After the assist, Tackett felt more reassured about how the rest of the game would play out.

“I was feeling overjoyed,” Tackett said”. “Knowing that we had that extra layer of protection with the two goals helped to calm nerves and let us play our possession based game. This year I’ve grown really close to Garwood and we’ve become really good friends, so to see her score twice against Ann Richards was incredible. She’s such an amazing player and this team is so lucky to have her for the next three years.”

After the game Tackett was ecstatic that the team’s hard work had paid off.

“This is something that we’ve been working for all season,” she said. “To be able to do it despite all the challenges we’ve faced was so special.

The varsity girls soccer team has since made their longest playoff run in 16 years by making it through the first two rounds of playoffs. In the regional quarter-finals they faced off against Georgetown with a losing score of 3-1, bringing their season to a close.

Caption by Evelyn Jenkins. Photo by Julia Copas.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: The girls varsity secured the bi-district title with a 7-5 win over Cedar Creek at House Park on Tuesday March 26 . 

Outside back and senior Ruby Barnett said the defense was feeling confident at the beginning of the game because Cedar Creek were a fourth-place team in their district. 

“Seeing as they were ranked lower, I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it ended up being,” Barnett said. “After the first two goals, our defense was taken aback. We were surprised at their talent, but we knew we had to win, so we got over our shock and worked harder to get the ball up to offense.” 

Rallying after being down two goals in the first 30 minutes, Barnett said the team made important adjustments in order to tie the score.

“We just had to communicate better,” she said. “We held a better defense, and made sure to get the ball up the field as best as we could, and overall put 100% into the game.” 

Barnett said there was a lot of tension as the game went on, but spirits were high. 

“We were very confident in ourselves and knew we had put in work to get where we were,” she said. “I was confident in my teammates and knew we would do what we needed to do.” 

Caption by Priya Thoppil. Photo by David Herring. 

APPLYING THE PRESSURE: Senior holding midfielder Caroline Owen applies pressure to the Cedar Creek attacking midfielder disallowing a turn during the varsity girls’ 7-5 bi-district victory over the Cedar Creek Eagles on Tuesday, March 26.

The game started with a scoring flurry as the Eagles quickly jumped out to a two-goal lead. The Knights scored their first goal not long after due to a half-volley from senior captain Sarah Hauck. The Eagles then scored again putting them up 3-1. 

“I sort of knew we would come back, so I wasn’t that worried, but obviously giving up that many goals so early in the game wasn’t ideal,” Owen said. 

However, with three unanswered goals before halftime, the Knights regained the lead at 4-3. The Knights then started the second half by scoring three more unanswered goals. With 10 minutes left in the game, the Eagles scored their fourth goal. Not long after that, their added their fifth goal. The Knights were able to protect and hold onto their lead after that to advance to the second round of playoffs on Thursday, March 28.

“I was pretty shocked at how high-scoring the game was on both ends,” Owen said. “You really don’t expect that type of result in playoffs, but at the end of the day all that mattered was that we made it through the round.”

At the next round, the Knights took on the Magnolia Bulldogs in Brenham, winning 1-0 with a lone goal scored by Hauck. With the win, the Knights advanced to round three of playoffs for the first time since 2006. Tonight they played the Georgetown Eagles at Georgetown, losing 3-1.

Caption by Maya Tackett. Photo by David Herring.

DEFENDING THE TITLE: The District 24-5A champion girls varsity soccer team beat Cedar Creek 7-5 on Tuesday March 26 to defend the bi-district title it won a year ago. According to senior Kat Klein, the game started “rough” with Cedar Creek quickly scoring two goals on the Knights, but Klein and her teammates didn’t let that deter them. By the end of the first half, the advantage had flipped as McCallum brought up their score to four over Cedar Creek’s three.

“The game was probably the craziest game I’ve played for McCallum,” Klein said. “It was so much fun to score so many goals and we fought back from being down. We knew we could do it, we just had to turn on defensively and rally.”

Moving into the second half, coach Thomas Gammerdinger urged the Knights to get “just one more goal.” His players took that to heart and scored not just one, but two more goals.

“They ended up scoring five so one goal wasn’t enough anyway,” Klein said. “We just wanted as big of a bumper for ourselves as we could get.”

Klein felt that the high scores from both teams were a strong and weak point for the Knights.

“It wasn’t great that they scored five goals but it was great that we scored seven,” she said.

Caption by Francie Wilhelm with reporting by Lanie Sepehri. Photo by David Herring.

A SHINING MOMENT FOR THE KNIGHTS: Just two days after the Knights defeated the Cedar Creek Eagles 7-5 to win the bi-district title, they met their next playoffs opponent, the Magnolia Bulldogs, with an area title at stake. The Knights claimed the title by edging the Bulldogs 1-0.  

According to senior Madi Briggs, the win over a larger, much-respected opponent gave the team more confidence that it belonged in the third round of the 5A playoffs.

“Our district is very competitive, so beating bigger teams boosted our confidence,” Briggs said. “From the win we gained a lot of confidence because we now knew we could beat teams that think they’re ahead of us.”

Briggs said that the herculean effort it took for the Knights to defeat the Bulldogs called for a celebration.

“As a captain it felt great grabbing the trophy,” Briggs said. “It made me realize being captain helped me lead the team to where we are today.” 

Briggs said that the bond between her and her teammates was more important than the wins and the three titles (district, bi-district and area).

“Our season was very memorable because of the connection our team had,” Briggs said. “We bonded very well and that bond showed on the field.” 

Knowing each game could be her last, the game against the Bulldogs was especially memorable because the victory extended her senior season at least one more game.

“I have definitely made the most memories this year out of my four years playing soccer for McCallum,” Briggs said. “This win was a big deal for the team because we knew the power our team had. People doubted us and didn’t think we had the chance to pass onto round 2, and I like to think that motivated us more.” 

With the win against the Bulldogs, the Knights advanced to the regional quarterfinals and a date with the Georgetown Eagles. While the Eagles ended this season, Briggs hopes that next year’s team will be able to pick up where this team left off.

“I hope the team carries on their connection that we learned to gain this year,” Briggs said. “Soccer isn’t an individual sport, so you have to have a good build up with your team.”

Caption by Chloe Lewcock. Photo by Emerson Merritt.

A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER: After a 1-0 win against Magnolia High School, McCallum celebrated being the area champions. For centerback Sienna Gunning, whose first year it was on varsity, the moment was memorable one.

“That night we felt more united as a team than ever before,” Gunning said. “Because we knew that we had all contributed and worked together towards the goal we scored, so it was a really heart-warming moment for all of us.” 

The team’s success had resonated deeply with not only the players, but also the coach behind it. After the former girls’ varsity coach left mid-season, athletic director Tom Gammerdinger stepped up to the plate and led the girls through the rest of the season. 

“By the end of the game coach G. got pretty emotional,” Gunning said. “Which made the rest of us get emotional too, and just made the moment feel so pure.”

The win also posed as a note-worthy moment for the program as a whole, as the team had not made it past the second round of the 5A UIL state playoff tournament since 2006. 

“After we won I was so happy and even cried tears of joy,” Gunning said. “I kept thinking about how McCallum girl’s soccer had just accomplished something that hadn’t been done in years.”

Caption by JoJo Barnard. Photo by Chloe Seckar-Martinez.

THE KNIGHTS FIGHT TO WIN: In their first playoff game against the Cedar Creek eagles the varsity Knights hoist up their trophy after a 7-5 win, which allowed them to advance to the area round of the playoffs. While the game started off with two quick goals from Cedar Creek,  McCallum made a comeback and the Knights eventually pulled away in the second half.

For junior Ashley Mankinen, being behind early against Cedar Creek served as a wake-up call and triggered the team’s survival instinct.

“I think the game really showed our perseverance as a team,” Mankinen said. “We were able to come back, and I don’t think there was any point in the game where we as a team didn’t believe that we could and should win, so I think that really highlighted this team’s determination and ability to stick together.” 

The moment at the end of the game and coming together as a team to celebrate the win with a trophy in hand was memorable for Mankinen. 

“It felt really good to get the win and to see the team come together to rebound and make a comeback,” Mankinen said. 

For senior Katarina Klein this years bi-district game was especially memorable because her team had lost the past three years in this round.

“This was my fourth bi-district game,” Klein said. “Being a senior who has won the previous three first-round games I wanted to win it extra bad so that my senior year wasn’t the worst year.”

Being able to celebrate the bi-district win with the rest of her team made all the tough spots worth it. 

“Winning a playoff game is always so special because it’s like all your hard work through the seasons and preseason has paid off,” Klein said. “It’s always our goal to make it past first round, so anytime you do it’s very rewarding.”

After the win Klein commemorates the team’s attitude and motivation to continually improve throughout the season. 

“Everyone on the team played a part this season in helping us win district,” Klein said. “We had players step in when needed and try new things. All our players trained very hard and everyone always had an energetic attitude which helped keep the team motivated and keep intensity high.” 

The combination of belief, motivation and intensity pushed the Knights past a barrier that had been insurmountable for many years.

“Every year before the season we talk about our goals, and every year it’s to make it past the first and second round,” Klein said. “You don’t want all your hard work throughout the season to go to waste by losing the first playoff game.”

Caption by Chloe Lewcock. Photo by David Herring.

A GOAL IS A GOAL: With Georgetown High School one goal ahead as the alarm rang for halftime, the girls varsity soccer team gathered and looked back on the team’s goal for the season: make it past area. The team achieved its goal, but could not advance to the fourth round tonight, losing in the regional quarterfinals by a score of 3-1. With the elimination loss, the Knights hung up their cleats for the season.

Freshman Maya Garwood and senior Caroline Owen were responsible for Knight goal. 

“Getting a goal in this game was a really awesome way to end the season for me,” Garwood said. “I’m happy I got to contribute to the team in this way”

In the moments after the loss, the team was down, but Garwood credits Coach Tom Gammerdinger which changing the mood by focusing on the larger picture.

Instead of reeling in regrets and loss, the team looked back on the season and saw improvement and accomplishment.

“We’ve changed so much since the beginning of the season,” Garwood said. “We’ve really stayed united through everything. I think Coach Gammerdinger has done an awesome job at bringing us together and motivating us.”

Caption and photo by Maggie Mass.

RESILIENCE TO REMEMBER: The varsity girl’s soccer team lost to Georgetown 3-1 on April 3, at Georgetown High School. Sophomore Tristan Diaz, who played central defensive midfielder, believes her strength lies in her communication skills.

“My personal strengths lie in giving my all and bringing intensity and communication, especially during corner kicks,” Diaz said. “The opposing team had set plays that our coach had scouted from their previous game, so I made sure to communicate with my team about positioning to give us the best chance of stopping any goals.”

Diaz believes the team’s persistence paid off in this game despite pressure.

“The team’s strength was our resilience,” she said. “We didn’t give up even after giving up a goal, which was challenging with the loud student section and pressure of the game. We kept pushing and created numerous goal-scoring opportunities. Our persistence paid off with the only goal of the night, scored just minutes before the game ended.”

The team’s mentality is where Diaz thinks there could be improvement.

“I think we psyched ourselves out after they scored the first goal, which led us to deviate from our usual gameplay,” she said. “Despite being a strong team, tonight we appeared to be reacting and playing a bit frantically, trying to make up for the goals and equalize the game.”

Diaz has found new perspectives on the field, improving her skills.

“This season, I’ve challenged myself by playing a new position that I don’t normally play,” Diaz said. “This experience has not only expanded my skills but also improved my communication on the field. Seeing the game from a different perspective has allowed me to understand the field better and make more strategic decisions. Over my time at McCallum overall, I’ve learned that with hard work, anything is possible. I’m incredibly proud of this team and how far we’ve come. We’ve grown both individually and as a unit, and it’s been rewarding to see our progress.”

While the future is uncertain, Diaz is set on some goals.

“With district realignment, it’s hard to predict what next year will look like,” she said. “However, my goal remains clear: to finish what we started and strive for another outstanding season, aiming for the district championship and setting our sights on surpassing the second round once again.”

Caption by Shila Gill. Photo by Sofia Saucedo.

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