Kyla Reynolds returned to the Model girls’ soccer team on Tuesday afternoon, and with her came a confidence that helped propel the team to the Elite Eight.
The Lady Devils rode behind four goals from Reynolds and a dominant second half to take down Thomasville, 5-2, in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs in Shannon. It is the second time in three years the program has reached the quarterfinals of the season-ending tournament.
It was the team’s determination in the final 40 minutes and the return of Reynolds, who played for the first time since suffering a concussion three weeks ago, that drove Model to overcome a 2-1 early deficit.
“Kyla is just such a phenomenal player,” Model coach Kacie Crowder said. “She can get to the ball whenever needed, and doing it today after the concussion is incredible. We’re happy she’s here, and we can always count on her to break through the defense.”
The Lady Devils will play St. Vincent’s in the quarterfinals Friday after the Saints shutout Oglethorpe County 10-0 on Tuesday. Since both Model and St. Vincent’s won their region titles, the location will be decided by a coin flip.
Beyond the four scores from Reynolds, Jennifer Espinoza had a goal for Model, while goalkeeper Melanie Morrison recorded four saves. Between those players was a midfield that consistently kept control of the ball to set up attacks on the goal.
Model (16-3) got a goal from Reynolds in the first 10 minutes, but Thomasville responded with two goals in the next 25 minutes. That early stretch was the only point in the match where the road team was consistently winning balls, thus keeping it from Model’s attack.
But Reynolds scored with just 12 minutes left in the first half to tie the match at 2-all, doing what she could for the team.
“It was a little scary today, and obviously you are trying to avoid being hit in the head,” Reynolds said. “But I just wanted to play like I was never out. It was the Sweet 16, so I wanted to go as hard as I could.”
Only four minutes into the second half, Espinoza found a hole in the defense and, after her first shot was blocked, scored on the rebound to put the Lady Devils back ahead. From that point forward, Model looked to be in complete control.
Thomasville (9-6-2) couldn’t get the ball inside to its forwards and spent most of the second half thwarting off Model’s scoring attempts. The Lady Devils appeared more aggressive in the final 40 minutes and ready to finish the match.
“At halftime we just talked about being first to the ball and being aggressive, and we did that much more in the second half,” Crowder said. “After we got that first goal in the half, it lifted our spirits a little bit, gave us the push we needed.”
Reynolds scored on almost identical breakaways in the final 10 minutes of the game.
The Lady Bulldogs couldn’t keep up with the forward after chasing around her, Espinoza, and other Model players all half long.