Senior Cash Beattie scores two for the boys, sophomore Harper Morris nets a hat trick in girls game
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Less than 25 minutes into the 2023-24 season of high school sports, Lone Peak High School Big Horns took a 4-0 lead.
The boys and girls varsity soccer programs hosted the Polson High School Pirates on Friday evening, Aug. 25 at the Big Horn Coliseum. Both teams won by a final score of 5-1, and coaches and team leaders added notes of confidence in the growth and development of returning players. In addition, both teams have seen notable growth in the size and depth of their rosters.
Tony Coppola, head coach of the boys team, said the players and coaches are all “stoked” to start the season off with a win. He pointed out that the Big Horns have 21 players at full strength, with 14 returning players including six seniors. It’s a bigger team than usual, creating a more competitive team culture than past years—no minutes are guaranteed, he explained.
“I think they’re all really hungry,” coach Coppola said.
Hungry for the net apparently—just six minutes in, senior captain Cash Beattie capitalized on a corner kick dropped by Polson’s keeper, volleying the Big Horns first goal into an empty net.
Five minutes later, senior captain Beckett Johnson assisted junior Arlo Hurlbut for another. Another three minutes lapsed before Beattie one-touched another goalkeeper rebound, scoring from outside the 18-yard box and increasing the Big Horns lead to 3-0.
“It felt great to get the horse out of the gates fast,” Beattie told EBS after the game.
In the 24th minute, junior Finn McRae used a nifty cut-back near the left corner to evade a defender, and shot across the goal into the top-right corner. The Big Horns’ fourth goal ignited the crowd and McRae’s teammates.
He told EBS it’s a move he’s practiced a decent amount, and the coaches encouraged him to try.
“It felt good, it was probably my favorite goal I’ve ever scored before,” McRae said. He missed last season while studying abroad in Switzerland, and he’s hoping for a deep playoff run.
“It’s really good to be back with the boys and playing, and I think we got off to a good start,” McRae said. “The team is gelling pretty well, even though we lost some good players like Max [Romney], it’s good to have some new freshmen and a bigger squad this year.”
About six minutes after McRae showed off his footwork, Beckett Johnson took his turn with a left footed, 20-yard corner strike. In 31 minutes, the scoreboard showed 5-0.
Aside from a strong goal by Polson senior Anthony Lichtenberg, which brought the score to 5-1 late in the first half, the Big Horn defense allowed few direct lanes and helped out sophomore keeper Oliver McGuire.
McGuire, however, will leave shortly to study abroad in Switzerland. Coach Coppola said the team will miss his quiet confidence, but freshman Miles Romney will take over, stepping into the goalkeeper role as a freshman—just as McGuire did last year.
“He’s just as qualified,” Coppola said of Romney.
In the second half, the Big Horns generally controlled the ball but couldn’t find many shots. Likewise, the defense stood strong and kept the score at 5-1 for the remainder of the game. Coppola said he made substitutes in the second half to help preserve legs for the team’s second contest on Saturday. He added that a 5-1 lead creates a good opportunity for younger players to gain experience.
Cash Beattie said it’s great to see the new freshmen joining the team, and believes this team has what it takes to make a deep run.
On being a senior, he said, “It’s kind of sad. I’ve been here for four years, grew up with most of these guys. It’s kind of like the last hurrah, so try to get the most out of it, make it our best.”
Morris sisters highlight a cohesive team win
According to head coach Kim Dickerson, the girls team is in a similar spot—the roster grew from 13 players to 20 this season, the largest team in program history. Last year, the team struggled with a lack of substitutes, especially when injuries had them down to 11 players.
On Friday, Dickerson told EBS she was super impressed by the opening 5-1 win.
“I was able to get all my girls in, and I’ve got a big roster now with 20 [players], and I’ve got the eighth graders helping supplement so we can keep a healthy roster,” she said.
Momentum built slowly, but the Big Horns were knocking on the door. A free kick by sophomore Maddie Wilcynski was batted over the crossbar by Polson’s keeper in the 13th minute, and two minutes later, senior captain Astrid McGuire rung the crossbar of the football goalpost. The Big Horns kept the ball in the offensive zone early, dominating possession but taking fewer shots.
Finally, in the 29th minute, sophomore Harper Morris shot across her body from the right side of the box, finding the bottom left corner to get the Big Horns on the scoreboard. The boys team, including some football players and friends, led the crowd in an “Olé” chant.
The score held until halftime. Five minutes into the second half, Polson scored to tie the game.
“You get the first game jitters, and we were able to finally get in our groove a little later in the second half,” coach Dickerson noted.
The note applied most directly to Morris, who scored her second goal five minutes later. She deked two defenders and set herself up for an open left-footed shot, almost uncontested by Polson’s keeper.
In the 22nd minute, Morris corralled a loose ball and set her left foot for another shot, this time finding the bottom left corner with ease from close range. The young soccer players gathered behind the goal screamed Harper’s name, overjoyed by her hat trick.
“[Feels] pretty good, I was pretty proud of myself,” Morris said. “But it was really not me, it was mostly my teammates that made it happen.”
Morris looks forward to seeing the team grow and become more aggressive.
Midfielder Astrid McGuire displayed her own strength and command of the field, despite none of her shots finding the net. She knocked a few off the posts, including a long-range strike off the crossbar in the second half.
McGuire believes in the potential of this team, and foresees a deep playoff run if they can keep putting in the work.
“This team is super special because we have so many younger people,” McGuire told EBS after the game. “It’s the first year that eighth graders got to try out, and they’re all super great, I’m super stoked to have them… It’s a great to be a leader on such a young team because I know these girls will continue this legacy on and really improve the team.”
Shortly after McGuire’s near-miss in the 25th minute of the second half, one of the four eighth graders made her presence known. Lola Morris—Harper’s sister—collected a loose ball and buried it, scoring in her first high school game.
After the game, Lola reflected on her high school debut and joining the offensive attack with her sister.
“It was a lot. I don’t know,” Lola said, emotional. “I know I’m excited.”
“She was very happy,” Harper interjected, saving Lola from her loss of words. “I was happier probably than she was. I was more proud.”
When asked what she’s looking forward to this season, Lola found the right word:
“Playoffs,” she said.
“And getting closer with the team,” she said, sharing giddy laughter with her older sister.
The Big Horn girls won their second game on Saturday, defeating Bigfork High School 3-0. The boys also won, beating Bigfork 7-1. The four opening wins conclude the Big Horns’ non-conference play.