Cheyenne East girls use lightning delays to their advantage

The Cheyenne East girls soccer team plays a game during a nearly 2-hour lightning delay prior to their Class 4A semifinal match with Laramie on Friday in Rock Springs. Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

The Cheyenne East girls soccer team plays a game during a nearly 2-hour lightning delay prior to their Class 4A semifinal match with Laramie on Friday in Rock Springs. The Lady Thunderbirds said the games they played in Rock Springs High’s auxiliary gym actually helped calm their nerves before the match. Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

ROCK SPRINGS – It would be reasonable to expect the Cheyenne East girls soccer team to have sweated through a pair of lengthy lightning delays at the Class 4A state tournament in Rock Springs.

The Lady Thunderbirds had just taken the field for Friday’s semifinal match with Laramie when they were sent back to the locker room for two hours.

They were forced inside with 25 minutes to play in Saturday’s state championship with Sheridan. That delay lasted more than two hours.

They had to spend both delays as balls of nervous energy anxious for two of the biggest matches of their season, right?

East couldn’t have been more relaxed.

“We played a lot of games to keep us entertained and we ate … a lot,” East junior forward Kayla Evans said. “We mostly hung out and tried to make the time go faster because it seemed like it was going by really slow.”

How did they pass the time? By treating the delays like recess.

“We played games,” junior defender Micayla Ross said. “They were simple kid games that took our minds off of things.”

Many of the games came from the T-Birds freshmen. They’re not so far removed from elementary school that they actually remember the silly games that allow kids to escape from reality and pressure.

Those games helped East escape. They also helped it win.

The T-Birds beat Laramie 3-1 in the semifinals before dispatching of Sheridan 6-1 in the championship match.

The 4-0 lead East held when its championship match was delayed probably had more to do with helping calm nerves than the schoolyard games, but those games didn’t hurt either.

“Everyone was so nervous heading into that semifinal game,” sophomore defender Karly Thompson said. “Having that time off got us to focus on ourselves instead of freaking out about the match. The delays worked to our advantage.

“When we got onto the field, our minds were ready and we were excited to play.”

Cheyenne East seniors Sarah Erickson, left, Mickala Withers, Elsa Froelicher, Shayne Carter, Makenzie Drake, Emily Breeden, Rachel Erickson and Hailey Heath celebrate with the Class 4A state championship trophy after Saturday afternoon's 6-1 victory over Sheridan at Rock Springs Junior High. Jeremiah Johnke/WyoSports

Cheyenne East seniors Sarah Erickson, left, Mickala Withers, Elsa Froelicher, Shayne Carter, Makenzie Drake, Emily Breeden, Rachel Erickson and Hailey Heath celebrate with the Class 4A state championship trophy after Saturday afternoon’s 6-1 victory over Sheridan at Rock Springs Junior High. Jeremiah Johnke/WyoSports

Water works

At halftime Saturday, East coach Jim Gardner gathered his eight seniors together away from the team bench and down the track at Rock Springs Junior High. The players gathered in a huddle with Gardner and longtime East assistants Jesse Gallegos and Marie Welliver.

The group stayed huddled for a few minutes before breaking up and hugging each other separately. Forward Makenzie Drake was visibly crying after the huddle and several other players seemed emotional too.

“He said that most of us weren’t going to play much in the second half because it seemed like we had the game in hand,” forward Rachel Erickson said. “That’s when I realized that this was the last match I was going to play with these girls. I’ve played with most of them since we started playing.”

Added midfielder Sarah Erickson: “(Drake) got emotional and that made the rest of us start crying.”

Sister act

Speaking of the Erickson sisters, Rachel scored East’s first goal with an assist from Sarah in the 15th minute. Sarah Erickson played a through-ball to her twin sister down the left side. The Sheridan defenders slowed like they were expecting an offside call. Even Sarah Erickson looked over at the assistant referee to see if the call was coming.

That left Rachel Erickson all alone against goalkeeper Sarah LeTempt, who stood no chance as Erickson buried a left-footed shot into the far side netting for a 1-0 East lead.

That sort of play has become commonplace over the past four seasons.

So has Sarah netting goals of her own, which she did in the 78th minute.

What makes the Erickson’s efforts noteworthy is that younger sister Jessie also got in on the action. The freshman forward headed a free kick by senior Emily Breeden past LeTempt in the 38th minute.

Jessie Erickson’s goal was part of a three-goal outburst by East that made the second half a mere formality.

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