It’s an adjustment dealing with the magnitude of the state tournament.
Not just the environment, but the size of field at Creighton’s Morrison Stadium. Gretna’s experience in both aspects led to a 3-0 victory over Papillion-La Vista South in the first round of the Class A state tournament Thursday.
Using the big field — measured at 120-by-80 yards — was a goal for the Dragons.
“We just talked about possessing the ball more and keeping the ball,” Dragon coach Digger Hawkins said. “If you can’t keep the ball on a field like this, you’ll never be able to keep the ball.”
For the Titans, making their first appearance at state since 2006, the larger field was an adjustment coach Jake Watson felt like he didn’t prepare his team for.
“With a field that big you have to be able to hold the ball and wait for the rest of the team to catch up,” he said. “We’d get the ball up to our forwards but we couldn’t get connected between the mid-third and the final-third of the field.”
The Dragons showed off their strength early when freshman Savannah De Fini hit a rocket shot from the left side over the goalkeeper and into the net to give Gretna a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute.
Watson said Gretna’s state experience — 18 straight appearances — was evident at the state of the game.
“Their experience at state was the difference in the first 10 minutes,” he said. “They were able to get a goal and settle in and that also puts some added pressure on us.”
After Gretna’s first goal, both teams had a couple opportunities to score the remainder of the first half. Chaley French hit a shot off the crossbar before Savannah Andrews just missed the rebound.
The Titans saw Maddie Weichel get to the baseline and hit Kylee Miller with a cross but Miller’s shot went off the side post.
In the second half, Gretna started to flex its muscle by controlling the play.
“I felt we played OK, but not great in the first half,” Hawkins said. “We talked about possession the ball more and creating and we were definitely better in the second half.”
Sarah Weber netted a perfectly delivered cross pass from French with 24 minutes left to push Gretna’s lead to 2-0 after about 50 scoreless minutes. About 12 minutes later, Chelsea Anderson pulled in the Titan defense before a dish to Sydney Zabloudil for the Dragons’ third goal.
Adding those insurance goals were important for the Dragons.
“The longer it stays at 1-0, they can get one,” Hawkins said. “I felt pretty confident, but the more chances you miss, sooner or later it could be 1-1.”
The loss ends the Titans’ season with a 13-7 record. Despite the first-round exit, it was a big season for the program.
“We really enjoyed our season and the chance to play at state but we had to learn the hard way that once you get to state, everything resets,” Watson said. “We’re going to learn this as a learning point. We’re very proud we made it even if we don’t think it was our best performance.”