The Almont girls soccer team did not get off to an ideal start, to put it one way.
In fact, it probably could not have gone worse.
The Raiders fell behind 1-0 less than a minute into Wednesday’s Division 3 regional semifinal against Flint Powers Catholic, and then were trailing 2-0 just a few minutes later.
But in a game that appeared destined for an 8-0 mercy rule, Almont hung in there for the full 80 minutes, and perhaps earned a moral victory of sorts, only conceding twice more in a 4-0 setback at Williamston High School.
“I told the girls at the end that I respect the heck out of them,” said Almont coach Mike Kepler. “You’re down three and you’re still fighting like it’s a tie. They’re a resilient team, it’s been there all season. Even with the 4-0 loss, it shows here that the girls push and go all game.
“We didn’t want to walk out of here down seven goals or anything like that.”
The Raiders (12-9) were playing defense for much of the 80 minutes, as the 13th-ranked Chargers kept applying pressure on Almont’s young backline. The performance helped give Kepler the belief they could build off that performance over the next year or two.
“They held themselves together the best they could,” Kepler said. “They came at us hard. I’m sure Powers wanted more goals than that, and probably expected more. ”
Almont’s leading scorer, Jesse Kautz, did not find the scoresheet Wednesday, but she has a promising future after a breakout sophomore season in which she tallied 34 goals and eight assists. And that’s coming off a 13-goal season as a freshman last year.
“I think I played my heart out compared to last year, but I think I really proved to myself that I have potential scoring and being the best I can be,” Kautz said. “I was very surprised with the success. Jumping from 13 to 34 is crazy. ”
This year, Almont won its first district title in six seasons. Kepler has been building up the program since taking over five years ago. And the Raiders had a wild district run this year, winning both the semifinal and final in overtime.
“That’s a proud run to see that,” Kepler said. “The success we had this season did not happen overnight, and that’s awesome.”
And with Kautz capable of running things at both forward and midfield, Almont hopes to be the team that puts its opponents on their back foot the next two seasons.
“Even though today, we took an ‘L,’ we’ll never forget it,” Kautz said. “We played our hearts out in the district and I don’t think we’ll ever forget that, either. We have an amazing coach and I think this program’s only going to go up from here. ”
Contact digital sports reporter Phil Friend at 517-377-1220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Phil_Friend.